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  Parenting Advice Column
  Subject: closely-spaced children/bored with toys/co-sleeping

QUESTION:

Hi Jan,

I have two boys (3 years and 18 months). They seem to be driving us a little crazy. We have a "toy" box, but they never play with the toys. They are like bored and would rather play with the plants, kitchen utensils etc. At night the 3-year-old insists on sleeping with us.

Do you have a book?

I really find your articles interesting.

Thanks,

Hayden


JAN'S REPLY:

Hi Hayden,

First, as you must know by now, having two closely-spaced children can be a real challenge. In fact, some child psychiatrists recommend at least three years between children, so that the older one has had early needs met. If you are going only a little crazy with two boys eighteen months apart, I'd say you're doing very well!

Many children find "real life" objects more interesting, fun, and challenging than toys. I wouldn't be too concerned about this. If you're worried about breakage, perhaps you could purchase smaller, less expensive, but similar items for them. Nature programs children to want to imitate older siblings and parents - this is how we teach the next generation. Children are quite naturally interested in the items they see us handle. Some of the top toy catalog companies have begun offering more "real life" items, child-sized. Pearl Buck once wrote that "I do not believe in a child world ... I believe the child should be taught from the very first that the whole world is his world, that adult and child share one world, that all generations are needed."

In fact, some parents buy no toys, to encourage children to learn to use actual objects, to help them feel important, and to see themselves as contributing members of the family, rather than children handed meaningless objects which are meant to entertain them while keeping them away from the family. So, rather than trying to change their inclinations, it would be easier and more helpful to find ways to include them in the meaningful activities of the household. That is, you might take advantage of this natural desire to be more like their parents. It can take some energy and creativity, but it can also be rewarding to help children in this way. A side benefit will be that you can more readily enjoy their company too. A toddler happily mixing the ingredients for a cake a parent is making can be a big help and is also a lot easier to keep track of, than one who is in a different room playing with toys.

The three-year-old wants to sleep with you because a child that age cannot handle loneliness at night and finds the parents' company reassuring and comforting during the dark hours. More specifically, a child who has needed to share his parents' time and attention with a new sibling starting at eighteen months of age, will naturally have more need for your company and reassurance of your love for him than if he were still your only child. He may even have more need for reassurance than the younger son, who has never known any other family structure.

If you haven't read my article "Ten Reasons to Sleep Next to Your Child at Night", please do so. If you still have questions about this, feel free to write again.

I find your choice of the word "insist" interesting. We would never say that a child "insists" on being fed; hunger is accepted as a legitimate need that the parent must meet. Yet if the child asks for nighttime company, our society treats that as a demand rather than a simple request to meet an equally important need. And what is worse? Loneliness or hunger? They are both valid and important drives which deserve our attention, compassion, and help.

I have not published any books yet, though I am currently seeking a publisher for a compilation of articles. I will also soon add to the web site a list of recommended parenting books by other authors.

Thank you for writing, and thank you very much for the compliment.

Jan

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