Parenting Insight: They don’t always need me

Book Excerpt by Flow to Learn contributor Susanne Stover, flow-friendly parenting expert and Oregon-based mother of two marvelous young masters of flow: I deeply love the time my kids and I play together, and of course it’s essential to their well-being and secure attachment. Sometimes to transition away from our special time together, they need me to “ignore” them intentionally but in a respectful way, for example, “I am still working, I can play with you in (xx) minutes. I’ll set a timer; would you like to press ‘go?’ Okay, see you in (xx) minutes!! Have fun!!” When it sounds decisive, this often compels them to gather their inner resources and make something of the moment, instead of depending upon me to navigate it for them.

It might take a few exchanges like this to convince them I will not be providing entertainment or be pulled away from my work. One or both might protest loudly about what they want me to do with or for them. Though it seems counterintuitive at first glance, what they really need is for me to say “no” and mean it. I know from experience that if I indulge in the age-old “one more time,” they’ll continue to ask for many more “one more times,” and at its conclusion the “but I’m bored” or “but I need you” cycle starts all over again, because they love spending time with me and with their Dada. It’s a lot like a friendly dare— I dare you to help yourself on this one. Are you ready? Want to try? No? But look! I am not available. It is a bit like a mother bird insisting her baby step out of the nest. And more often than not, no matter how grudgingly they start out on their own, they soon joyfully spread their wings, freely exploring and adventuring. Of course, if either child feels truly needy, sad, tired, or otherwise unable to take command of their own focus, I do my best to respond in a loving and accepting manner as soon as that’s clear (usually it’s immediately after they try their best and are obviously unable to continue). In this case, I might help them get started by playing with items I know they love and involving them as well, or by meeting whatever genuine need they have.

I couldn’t possibly count the number of times that both children have become immersed in their self-chosen activity for long stretches of time—even hours—after this type of exchange with me. It might seem like unsupportive parenting at first, but after a few occasions of a child exuberantly experiencing their ultimate flow state, it becomes clear how beneficial it can be to stand up for the benefits of boredom!

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