My almost 2-year-old has no sense of self-preservation. If I turn my back for a minute, there’s a good chance she’ll be dive-bombing off the furniture or swinging from the light fixtures by the time I get back. She can scale a staircase in the blink of an eye, clear a countertop of small objects in one fell swoop, and burrow into the smallest spaces you’d never want a small child burrowing into.
And I know this is nothing new. I’m convinced this daredevil behavior must be a developmental stage of toddlerhood, mixing childhood curiosity with the defiance and independence of a 2-year-old—all to potentially disastrous results. I’m exhausted. And if you have a small toddler, I know you are too.
Up until now, I feel like I’ve had two options: I could either spend my whole day peeling my daughter off the side of a bookcase, or I could turn on Netflix and let everyone stare at the television for an hour. Neither of these makes me feel particularly productive.
That’s why settling on my latest idea has been so freeing. It isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but sometimes the simplest methods are the most effective. Creating a “yes” space has given me a sense of freedom and has allowed me enough time for life’s essentials (like making a cup of coffee and then actually drinking it).
The Yes Space
As parents, so much of our time goes to saying “No”—as in, “No, don’t pull the cat’s tail,” or “No, glue isn’t for our hair.” When you have a small child at home, falling into a negative cycle feels natural and easy. But when you have a designated safe place where young children can do as they please, shouting a nervous “No!” hardly seems necessary.
The trick is to keep little ones safely contained and easily visible. In our house, to get through this rough stage of toddlerhood, we converted our breakfast nook into a play space. We pushed out the furniture, rolled out a child safety gate, and created a makeshift playroom that includes only the items I am confident my daughter can’t climb, swallow, or otherwise use to injure herself.
I rotate the toys frequently so that my little one’s interest is always piqued. Switching out items and taking a minimalist approach helps keep this space one of surprise and intrigue—two key components of independent play.
My 6-year-old can disappear into her room for a creativity-fueled afternoon. My toddler? Not so much. I’ll be lucky if I get 10 minutes of solo play out of her. Sure, that’s frustrating, but we can’t expect more from our toddlers than what they are capable of developmentally. The good news? Creating a yes space gives our kids ample time to practice playing on their own—but it won’t come naturally.
To encourage little ones to play and explore independently, it helps to remember that toddlers thrive on a parent’s attention. They also learn through imitation. The more ways you can show kids how to explore a toy, the greater the odds are that this item will sustain their attention longer.
The whole idea behind a yes space is one of freedom: your toddler can be free to roam and play with anything they see, and you don’t need to hover in the name of safety. Obviously, this means your new play space must be toddler-friendly, ruling out any toys with small or sharp pieces or items that might otherwise lead straight to tears. It also goes without saying that just because you’ve created a safe area for your little one, doesn’t mean you can leave them unattended. With all that said, here are a few of my favorite toddler-friendly toys to stock in your new space: