Parenting Resource

Playing with Baby Is Fun (Until It’s Boring)

Jan 12, 2018

Why is it hard sometimes for parents to play like babies?

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Most moms and dads love to play with their babies and toddlers. They enjoy peek-a-boo, blocks, and everything in between. But there are always times when baby’s needs and wants don’t match up with the parent’s. Here are some ideas for what to do when you’ve hit the wall on playing with your little one.

How Babies and Toddlers Explore, Learn, and Play
Why It Might Be Challenging and What You Can Do
Young children like to do the same thing over and over.
  • Your baby may sit and put blocks in and out of a bin or bucket.
  • Your toddler may want you to read the same book 17 times in a row.
  • Your child may be happy to feed you the same plastic banana over and over (and over).
Grown-ups may find this boring and tedious after a while.
  • Make staying engaged a game for yourself. Try looking at each and every feature on your baby’s face. Look around the room and try to find five things that are red. Take five deep belly breaths. Little games like this can help you stay in the moment.
  • Try a joke. For example, calling a banana an apple. Your toddler will love it. Babies often enjoy some slapstick humor, too. Try pretending to sneeze blocks into a bucket.
  • Remind yourself that what you’re doing is important. Say to yourself, “Reading this book over and over is good for my child’s brain.”
Young children move quickly from one thing to another.
  • Your baby may be very focused on an activity—like shaking her rattle and smiling at you—and then after a minute or two, turn away.
  • Toddlers can be among the most active humans you ever meet. They have a lot of energy and need ways to let it out.
  • Your child is likely interested in anything “new” and may move all around a room touching and exploring as he goes.
Grown-ups may want some moments to last longer!
  • Young babies quite naturally take breaks because activity and interaction are tiring for them. When you see your baby turn away, start to yawn, or get a little cranky, give her a break. Wait for her to make eye contact again—that’s how you’ll know she is ready to play.
  • Adults can support a toddler’s growing attention span by helping him re-focus on activity by asking a question or making a comment: “What do you think the dolly would like to eat next?” Or, “I see some blocks we could use to build a garage for the cars.”
  • It may sound crazy—but consider removing some toys from your child’s environment. Fewer toys can mean fewer distractions for some toddlers. They may spend more time playing at one activity if there aren’t so many options in sight.
Young children benefit when we let them take the lead.
  • Babies love when grown-ups delight in their antics. Paying close attention to baby’s actions while he plays builds your shared connection and baby’s self-esteem.
  • Allowing young children to choose what to play tells them that they are smart, capable, and powerful.
Grown-ups may be used to giving directions and “steering” the play.
  • Challenge yourself to not speak or interrupt your child’s play for a short period of time. Pay attention to how often you find yourself wanting to “jump in” and watch what happens when you don’t.
  • When playing with babies, let a few seconds pass after you say something before speaking again. Babies take longer to process and plan their responses. Giving them time to respond is an important part of letting them lead.
  • With toddlers, try a statement that doesn’t direct the play, like, “What next?” Or, “What should I do?”

About Baby Steps

This article was featured in Baby Steps, a ZERO TO THREE newsletter for parents and caregivers. Each issue offers science-based information on a topic of interest to parents and caregivers of young children—from sleep to challenging behaviors, and everything in between.

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  • Author

    Rebecca Parlakian

    Senior Director of Programs

  • Author

    Sarah S. MacLaughlin

    Senior Writer, Parenting Resources


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