So What Do I Do After the First Five Minutes?
Okay guys, you now have sole custody of the kid while your other half takes some time to run errands or kibbitz with her friends. "Damn," you think, "this will be really cool." But as she rolls out of the driveway, it dawns on you that this is going to be for hours.
What on God’s green earth am I going to do with this little kid for that long? This is my chance to show that I do have a clue so just tossing him in the crib or in front of the TV isn’t really an option here.
So what happens first? Babies and small children won’t need things done at precisely the exact moment, but they really do best if kept on a fairly predictable routine. Creating a simple thumbnail schedule is a place to start. Does Junior take naps, and is your timeframe with Junior in that nap period? If so, jot it onto the schedule and bear in mind that he’ll probably have to spend some quiet, "wind-down" time before being tucked in for a nap. Does Junior usually have a meal or snack in the time frame? If so, jot it onto the schedule and then determine what Junior’s going to eat and how long it might take to prepare. By the way, I have kids of both genders but I’m using"he" for simplicity sake.
And then what happens? Here are a few basic rules before getting on with the good stuff.
Rule #1 Remember that perhaps the most important thing that your child needs is interaction. He will have to learn to occupy himself at times, but his needs – cognitive, emotional and physical – and his ability to cope with the world are dramatically improved by regular interaction with you and Mom. Yes, love is absolutely a given here but let’s be honest, there are a lot of folks around who love their kids but don’t spend enough time with them.
This is your time, take advantage of it.
Rule #2 A little TV is okay, but only in limited doses and only certain programs. TV might be an option while you fix a snack/meal, or tend to a few quick chores; but it cannot and must not become a staple. Spending the afternoon in the woodshop while Junior watches the idiot box is not the right idea.
Rule #3 You have a little leeway if Junior isn’t crawling yet, but you are still going to have to pay attention to where he is and especially what is withing his reach. If he can reach it, it’s going in his mouth faster than a cop with a doughnut.
Rule #4 Relax. This can and should be fun; it does get hairier when you are responsible for more than one and they’re at different ages.
Okay, enough rules. Now what can I do with Junior? Try these for size.
Read to him. Even if he’s a baby, hearing the use of language will give him a leg up on his own verbal skills. When we lived in DC some years ago, the only way to get my regular dose of Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser was to read aloud to the baby while she lay next to me on the floor. If he’s older, cardboard page books are great: they are written for the youngest levels and he can work on his motor skills by helping to turn pages without the worry of tearing them.
Sing to him. In Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, a divorced and out-of-touch Tom Cruise lullabies his daughter – in a war zone, no less – with a lousy rendition of Little Deuce Coupe. It isn’t the melody and God knows not the singing, but the voice, language and rhythm that are important for the kid.
Get down on the floor with him. Play Peek-a-boo and lift him over your head. Wrestle. If he can sit up, spend time rolling a ball back and forth. Give him piggyback or bear rides. Build block towers and let him knock them down, but don’t get invested in creating masterpieces that you won’t allow to be destroyed. It might get monotonous, but it matters to him and believe it or not, this is part of your job as a parent. And not all jobs are exciting.
Go outside. If the weather isn’t bad, toss him into a backpack, stroller or wagon and go for a walk.
Make simple crafts. This doesn’t have to be rocket science and God knows I’m not Martha Stewart. Use your imagination. One neighbor spent an afternoon making more than a dozen light sabers out of rolled-up newspapers, water bottles and duct tape. Make a space helmet from construction paper and a 24 pack soda case. Sometimes the simplest and goofiest looking stuff is the most memorable.
Pull out a deck of cards. You can use them to practice counting, teach him the difference between colors and shapes, or if he’s older, teach basic math skills by playing War. Smaller kids just get a kick out of 52 Pick-up.
Build a fort. If you have boxes, pull them out and let Junior climb in and through. Or just throw a blanket over the dining room/kitchen table to create a clubhouse.
Play "clayface". Let your kid mold your face into different shapes.
Teach cause-and-effect. If your child touches you, move something else. Touching a left cheek means a lifted left eyebrow or poking a lower lip rewards him with a wink. Have fun with it.
No matter what you do here, remember that the key is interaction. This benefits him immensely, as well as you with stronger bonds.
And one other note. If you have to leave the room for any period of time – regardless of the length – make sure that he is back in his crib or playpen. This requirement will diminish as he grows, but pay attention as an accident will happen in the blink of an eye. Trust me on that one.