While at the park the other day, Bea tried playing with a couple of older girls. At first, they seemed to be having fun digging in the sand and chatting. It worked for a bit, but the older girls had an imaginative game going and Bea just wanted to dig. The girls ended up relocating under a different slide and Bea found a new activity, happily climbing alone.
With other two-year-olds, this rule works well: We like being together but are cool doing our own thing. Bea and her small friends will play for hours, sometimes with the same toys, but most often in the same proximity while doing different things. Occasionally, we’ll have an It’s mine! argument, but for the most part, the toddlers are happy on their own.
Mixing developmental levels works for a while, but it seems the older ones get bored and want to play their own games. (Unless they’re much older and then the role of babysitter comes into play.)
Observing the older girls at the park interact was interesting, too. After a while, someone’s feelings got hurt. The others follow, they talk it out, one may say she needs a bit of alone time, and then they continue playing – until the cycle repeats itself.
Watching, I wondered how I could get the attitude of parallel play back in my life. As much as I am grateful for my thoughtful, intentional interactions – both in my community and as I absorb information – I sometimes wish adults could practice the skill of being together without actively interacting.
How can I be content doing my own thing, knowing I’m enjoying myself, without worrying about what others are doing? It reminded me that there will always be a group of people who seem to be having more fun, more meaningful conversations, more adventures than me. In reality, I am happy, connected, and discovering small adventures daily. Why compare?
How can we be content being in proximity, but letting our peers do their own thing. Can we simply be in the moment, without worrying about following the script, being too intentional, or deepening a relationship all the time?
There’s something beautifully simple about digging in the sand next to a new friend, getting up to go down the slide without worrying if they come too, sharing a snack, and repeating the process.
Do you find yourself content in your daily experiences? How can we bring the idea of playing alongside but without comparisons into our interactions?