There are numerous times that you need kids to entertain themselves including everything from times you need to take a shower, make a phone call, take care of various household tasks, and even sit still, calmly, and quietly outside of the home. We always sit together as a family in church for various reasons, and this is a technique that has very much helped with learning acceptable behavior and being independent during church.
While I am far from a parenting expert, I have found blanket training to be useful in training even very young children to entertain themselves quietly. Being calm, quiet, still, and independent really are learned skills and therefore something that needs to be taught.
It can be slow going in the beginning based on your child, and there are those who are just too energetic, spirited, or strong willed that you may feel it is not worth your stress, however, if you stick with it and are able to develop these skills in your child in this way you will be amazed at how these skills serve you, and them, well through the years. The concept is quite simple, really, although the execution is not always easy. Perseverance is key here. You will need:
- a specific blanket that will be used for this purpose only. Size depends on what works best for you
- I have found it to be most time efficient if you have some new toys or activities to use for this training process. New things are always more successful at captivating their attention
- a few options here also would include a way for some quiet and calm music, a small treat to use as a reward during the process, and a “bigger” reward for success at the end of the exercise
- toys, cards, puzzles, anything you can think of really, just something they have not seen before. These do not need to be expensive. Your local dollar store can be a gold mine for things that can work here. You will need enough to alternate at times, introducing some new toys to keep their interest throughout the training process
This is what blanket training looks like in my home:
- the blanket gets spread out in the area you want to work with their treasures contained in a basket or bin. The uncovering or unpacking of their treasures is often part of the fun discovering process. Putting smaller toys like Army men, pretty beads, or jewels in fun containers that are easy enough for them to open, but might provide an additional distraction or time component works very well
- if you are using music it should be quieter than when they listen to music as other times. This is a different, special time, and it needs to vary from other times they may do these same activities
- if your child is old enough to reason with, you can explain the concept that they are to stay on the blanket playing quietly, but if not you will return them to the blanket any time they come off of it
- those little treat rewards work great in letting them know they are on the right track, as does large doses of praise
- when they come off the blanket you must be firm, but calm
- encourage them to discover their things in new and different ways. Even the little containers you put things in can provide a new and different way to play with the things in their basket
- these are toys and things that are to be only used at these times
The time varies depending on the age of the child, and it increases as the training moves along. I usually find 10 minutes is a great place to start. The key is to make it short enough in the beginning that they can complete it fairly easily. That way they can earn those rewards along the way and the reward at the end. Introduce new toys after a few days or a week or so, just to keep them looking forward to this time.
Build up this blanket time in talking about it, and also praise them for a job well done even at other times. You remove yourself from the area in increasing amounts, explaining that they are to stay on the blanket with their toys while you do whatever, but you need to be close enough to correct them if they get off either using your words or moving them back if they are too young for reasoning skills. Remember, firm but calm.
The goal you want to work toward is also a personal decision. My goal is 30 minutes of alone time when I know they will stay on the blanket, playing quietly, no matter where I am. The times I gave are only guidelines. You will discover the best ways to train your child in a way that is challenging yet attainable.
Believe me, with seven children, I understand this varies widely even among my seven. This process has looked different with each one. You will fully appreciate any time that you are able to train your child to achieve. If it seems to hard, stick with it a bit longer. If you decide to surrender, try it again, but don’t wait too long. Keep at it though, your hard work will pay off!