When they discover an interesting new activity, babies like to go through the repetitive process of doing it over and over. Just like you enjoy being able to do something good & you like to repeat, repeat and repeat it. So does baby, especially when they are doing something for the first time.
For example, my daughter finds a box of tissues. What does she do with it? She starts removing the tissues. One by one, she plucks them out and throws them to the side. That’s the process she is exploring at the moment. She isn’t satisfied with stopping after the first two or three tissues. She wants to work her way through the whole box.
For parents, these kinds of activities can be frustrating. I don’t want my daughter to put the tissues in her mouth or to make the space around her messy. I don’t want her to waste the tissues by scattering them around. It will take me time to scrunch them back into the box. We all think the same thoughts.
Why do babies love these repetitious processes?
These processes are a part of how babies learn about the world. When my daughter grabs and removes tissues over and over again, it’s an interesting experience for her. She’s applying her motor skills in a new way and discovering something about tissue boxes. A box of tissues is fascinating to a baby. “Where are these tissues coming from?” she wonders. “Why are there so many?”
How can parents set a limit?
If we let babies explore things as much as they want, our houses will get turned upside down. How can we place some limits without upsetting them too much?
It’s easier to get my daughter to stop doing something if I’ve given her enough time to explore. For the tissues, I count until there are 15 tissues (for example) on the floor. Then I tell her, “Let’s not do that anymore or Let’s do something else.” I take them away and remove the box as well.
She doesn’t start crying when I take them away. Maybe she gets a little annoyed, but she doesn’t feel upset or scared by me stopping her activity. She experienced enough of it at this point that she doesn’t struggle with a difficult transition away from it. She already got to enjoy the experience of removing a whole bunch of tissues. When I stopped her, it wasn’t a completely new activity anymore. You will get a very different reaction if at the 1st or 2nd tissue pulled, you yank the tissue the box away.
When possible, let babies go through their repetitive processes for a while. Granted, you won’t always be able to do this. There are times when you’ll need to immediately interrupt them, especially if they are intrigued about something dangerous. But don’t put a quick stop to their activity unless you really need to. Use your judgment, and redefine what you’re willing to put up with. I used to think of tissues coming out of the box as a bad thing. Nowadays, I’m more tolerant of it. If I have time, I’ll let it slide and let her keep going through the process of tissue removal.
Babies don’t do any of these things to annoy or disobey you. Although far too often that is what we are thinking. “Baby!!! Why are you doing that!!? “Dont do that!!” Just saying those words out loud implies that your baby is trying to purposely upset you. Far from it. They’re simply learning about the world and enjoying an interesting activity. Let them stay interested.
Look at their hands. Its a challenge to grab a hold of the Kleenex and jerk them out of the box. They are actually trying to master the motor skill movement and action of removing something. Don’t get upset with them. For us, it’s just a minor annoyance. For them, removing tissues is a fascinating personal challenge. They are gaining control over something. They have such little control in this world, if they are gaining some small control, even for a brief moment, your already teaching your child something very positive about the future.
I try to avoid interrupting my daughter too quickly when she’s exploring an interesting activity. I relax the limits that I impose on her. As a result, she’s much less upset when I finally stop her.
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