Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Social Skills With an Infant in the Mix

What about teaching social skills while mixing toddler age (1 year old to under 3 years old) with an eight to twelve month infant that is more mobile and crawling? This requires a different approach compared to two or more toddlers playing together. Toddlers could be high energy at times. How can they play together in the same play space when an infant wants to crawl around and grab everything? The toddlers are not quiet old enough to fully understand that an infant is only curious and doesn’t know how to share yet. The toddlers typically don’t pay attention when they are pushing toys like trucks super-fast with the potential of hurting a little one by running over fingers or toppling over. How do we keep it calm and safe?

In most cases infants from newborn to around six or seven months old are sorta safeguarded from older siblings of toddler age. However, there comes a time when infants have the need to stretch their horizons and explore the world of crawling beyond a limited area. I like to call this limited area “the infant area”. The open/shared area is typically the living room or a playroom that has been childproofed for children to play. How can we make this transition a smooth transition?

  • Check the floor area for toys or objects too small for an infant to mouth. If childproofed, the room should already be free of hazards like cords and objects that can easily be pulled down when grabbed. 
  •  It wouldn’t hurt to place your house pet (cat or dog) in a separate area of the house for this short transition period. 
  •  When all is ready, place the infant in the open area and allowing him to roam free with his sibling or playmate(s) in the mix. 
  •  At the same time, it’s a good idea to sit on the floor near the infant while watching the toddler(s) around the infant. 
  •  I would only do this for just a few minutes each day until the infant and toddler(s) are used to sharing their space on a more regular basis. Only time will tell when that time is. 
  •  This is a good time to teach the toddler(s) how to be appropriate with an infant nearby. Remind them about sharing with their playmate. If the infant has a toy, the toddler(s) can be reminded that it’s the baby’s turn. Even though an infant doesn’t understand “sharing” toddlers should be taught not to take a toy away from a baby. 
  •  If the infant grabs a toy away from a toddler, give it a few seconds as the infant’s attention span on a particular toy lasts only a few seconds. Remind the toddler(s) not to pull the toy away and to wait. He can have his toy back in a few seconds when the infant moves on to something else.
 Toddlers do get territorial with their toys because this is new for them. At the same time, the infant will be reaching up and crawling on the toddler(s). This is why it’s important for an adult to supervise while sitting nearby the infant. There’s a lot of redirecting happening for the infant.

You will need to redirect the infant several times because he doesn’t know about boundaries and is very curious of this new play space.

During the first several days, maybe even couple of weeks, you might need to introduce the idea of transitioning from the infant area to the open/play area slowly. Allowing the infant to crawl around the open/play area among toddlers for a few minutes and then bringing him back into his familiar infant area.

Once this is a regular setup for play, you will need to pay extra attention to the mix of an infant with toddlers. Infants are curious about the playmate’s hair, face, and toys. So it will require lots of redirecting for the infant and watching the toddler’s reaction to the infant lack of boundaries. Sometimes, toddlers could be sensitive to this and choose to fight back by scratching, hitting, or pushing the baby away. You will need to consistently remind the toddler(s) to be gentle with the baby if he gets in their way. Understand that it takes a while for siblings or playmates to understand this. Infants won’t understand the concept of sharing until over a year old. Or the understanding of what we mean by, “Its Joey’s turn.” Refer to Iva's article Social Skills and Sharing for Toddler Age Group . In addition if you have a preschooler that creates projects that can’t be disturbed by little ones, Iva's book Precious Years Leaps & Bounds has a section on “Spacing in a Family Home”.

What do I mean by “redirecting?” If a little one is getting into a situation that can be dangerous, then I pick him up and place him in a safer area of the room.

Sometimes, an older sibling or older playmate can get a little overwhelmed with this. If I notice this happening, after a few minutes of sharing the space with an infant, I place the infant in an excer-saucer, the infant area, or have the infant spend some lap time with Miss Iva.

Generally the playtime for an infant is limited anyways, because between naps and feeding times, there is usually about fours hours (a couple of hours in the morning and another coupe of hours in the afternoon) of free play time in the day’s routine.

So transitioning from an infant area to an open/play area is a slow gradual approach with introducing the opportunity to explore a few minutes a day. Eventually, your infant and toddler(s) will transition into a safe and calm play environment.

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