My daughter, Lily, is a pretty determined little kid, but she is also incredibly stubborn. In order for her to do something, she must actually want to do it, or it becomes a battle of wills. Personally, I hate that battle because in the end, everyone loses.
What I’ve found, however, is that I can get her to want to do what I want her to do (say that three times fast) by either making it a fun game (I’ll talk more about this in the future), or setting up her world to passively encourage the activity. Or more simply … If I build it, she will come.
Natural curiosity is a fantastic thing
When Lily started inching forward, and then over time began developing a more accomplished army crawl, the next step was to get her up crawling on all fours and kneeling during playtime.
- Crawling “up” and kneeling was really hard for her because her legs, hips, and core muscles are weak, and it takes her longer than a typically developing child to build strength.
- She wasn’t motivated to do these things because she could get where she wanted to go by army crawling, and could easily play with her toys on the floor.
The solution: Set up situations where what she wanted to do or see was within reach, but on an elevated surface.
Below are a few play situations we set up using the existing design of our house and items we already owned. The only thing we spent money on is the bumper rail for the fireplace to make sure we avoided injury. As you can see, they seemed to do the trick.
1. Tray-Play Table
For our wedding, we received tray tables that are meant for romantic breakfasts in bed. I think we used them for that once. Maybe twice. Years ago.
However, they make a fantastic play area, and can be easily moved depending on the activity. The only watch-out is that the tray stability could be questionable depending on which side of the table she used. Because of that, using the tray table was always a closely supervised activity.
2. Clear space in front of low windows
Our backyard occasionally resembles a wildlife preserve due to the birds swooping in to eat from our bird feeder, the squirrels scurrying across the deck and up the tree, the deer who come to eat our flowers and tomatoes (shaking my fist in anger), the neighborhood cat who strolls by like he owns the place, and the occasional sweet chipmunk who comes to visit. This yard, plus the huge picture window looking outdoors is what made me fall in love with our house.
One day I sat on the floor playing with Lily, and I realized the bottom of the window was the perfect kneeling height for her! All I had to do was clear away a few items from in front of the window, and show her how to use the window frame to pull up. Perfect. Now she could enjoy the wildlife show on her own. And she did.
3. Place favorite toys on a low step
We don’t have many steps in our house, but we do have a fireplace that we never use, with a hearth that doubles as a nice, low step. We purchased fireplace safety bumpers to attach to the edge of the hearth, and created a play space in front of the fireplace using an inexpensive 8’x10′ rug from Ikea (which we already owned). We organized some of her toys onto the carpet, but kept the ones she was most into at the moment up on the step (hearth). At first, she would just reach up onto the step to get the toys. Then, she started pulling herself up more, little by little.
The toys on the fireplace hearth were working, but I wanted more encouragement! So…
4. Put a fish tank in your fireplace (or another low surface)
When Lily was about 10 months old, my husband’s friend got a new job thousands of miles away. This friend offered to give us his fully set up and thriving fish tank.
I wasn’t sure about the tank at first. I argued that it would be a lot of work. My husband countered with, “But the fish are algae eaters so the tank is self-cleaning!” I argued that it would be a lot of expense. He then exclaimed, “He’s also giving us a small tank for when fish have babies, and all of his supplies!” And then he added with a sheepish and sweet grin, “It would be good for Lily.”
He got me. I melted. And then my gears started working.
I glanced at the fireplace and got a twinkle in my eye. “Husband,” I said, “What would you think about putting the fish tank in there (pointing at the fireplace)?” I’m not really sure if he thought I was crazy, but he got his fish tank, and I got my Lily-motivator.
And it worked. Magically.
5. Put bins of baby-safe items on low shelves
This one was a happy coincidence, so I can’t really take credit for the idea. However, it did get her up on those knees.
We had all sorts of extra bottle supplies and random plastic kid kitchen gear, very few cabinets, and less than enough counter space in our kitchen. We also happened to have two plastic tubs from the hospital and NICU (the ones they provide for washing breast pump supplies). Voila! A storage system! Since they were all baby-safe, I stuck them down on a low shelf. It became one of her favorite play places.
Do you have a little one that needs a little “up on knees” encouragement?
Look around your house. Get on the floor looking at things from your child’s perspective. What could have an alternate purpose? What slight adjustments could you make to get your child to want to do what you want them to do?