Jennie Monness, founder and CEO of Mo’Mommies and Union Square Play, understands that raising our children is the most important job we’ll ever do. With her master’s degree in early childhood education, she has been an early childhood teacher, an educational director for several childcare centers, and an adjunct professor for early childhood education graduate students. And still, having two under two has reaffirmed that her resume is devoid of her most important and rewarding accomplishment – being a mom.
Monness says that one of the hardest things we’ll do as parents is to allow our children, especially infant children, to learn and grow independently. You might be thinking, “an infant is not independent,” and you might think your job as a parent is to “do” things for them. This assumption is valid when it comes to keeping them out of harm’s way and making sure their basic needs are met – and even in getting an adequate amount of snuggling. However, Monness says one of the most extraordinary things we can do for our children is to trust their competence and allow them to build resilience and do things independently.
Monness advocates that parents must lose their fear of negative feelings – getting upset or mad or frustrated – and let the child arrive at a solution on their own, with our support, as long as no danger is pending. Meaning, parents shouldn’t always immediately rescue their children from feeling anything but happiness. This practice is what Monness calls “sitting on your hands.” For example, instead of reaching down and handing the toy to your infant on the floor, see if he can acquire it himself. Even if he gets frustrated trying, he has intention, and he has a will. Even with just using our voice, parents can support instead of physically handing over a toy. Monness says don’t deprive him of the satisfaction of reaching the goal on his own. Once he finds success, he will be more inclined to try other things – and this is learning in its purest form.
Allowing your child these moments of learning and triumph is just as crucial for the parents as the child. Everyone knows you can’t get anything done while holding a baby all day long. Some parents tend to overuse entertainment devices – such as bouncy seats and jumpy swings –which are excellent resources to get a baby out of your hands, so you can get something done. However, these devices are also very restrictive for the child. True, these devices have a definite place in raising children and giving parents some breathing space, yet there is a lot to be said for putting babies on the floor and letting them explore. Being able to move their legs, feet, and arms without restrictions is so vital for their development. And this practice is proof to parents that babies are capable of entertaining themselves.
There are similar rules for toddlers. Monness says parents who plan out every moment of their toddler’s day to prevent boredom have the best intentions, but there is no need to be so overzealous. “We don’t think our toddlers can play independently, until we allow them to feel boredom and see them come up with the most creative ways of playing,” says Monness.
For a parent, watching your infant achieve the goal of scooting enough to reach the toy, or looking into the playroom and seeing your toddler engaging in independent play, should instill an enormous amount of pride. And not only pride, but relief that your child is resilient and competent. Monness adds, “The skill of independence is one that will serve all children well in life.”
In some ways, the pandemic and how it affected a “normal home life” has brought child competencies to light. With parents at home, spending more time with the kids during the day, the natural instinct would be to hold your baby more or over-plan for your toddler. However, not having such methods might be the best plan of all. Any program that teaches children more independence and gives parents more freedom from their children is a win-win. Monness says, “Trusting your child’s competence might very likely be the best thing some parents get out of the pandemic.”