Yesterday, I heard E playing in her room by herself. She was both pretend crying, and playing the role of comforter to that character by pretending to be a different one. I was curious, so I peeked in on her. The upset character was a dragon........made of a sheet of paper and two hairbands! I did smile to myself at the big drama she was enacting with effectively bits of nothing. It just shows that children don't always need to be entertained. If she got her way she'd probably have been watching TV instead, but actually she plays in a very creative way when her options are limited to toys not technology. That's why we let her watch some TV each day, but not all day.
E watches age appropriate programmes - current favourites are Mr Bloom Here And There/Mr Bloom's Nursery, Teletubbies, Bagpuss, In The Night Garden, Hey Duggie, Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig, and Topsy & Tim. She gets involved in the stories and sings and dances to the music. At times she's inspired enough to want to act out storylines or ask to make things she has seen on the programmes. We always say we won't allow more than 45 minutes a day, but it's not uncommon for it to be more like 1 hr 15 mins or maybe more (I feel sightly ashamed to admit this). I know I'm guilty of using the TV to occupy her after she'd had her breakfast so I can have mine in peace, with a cup of coffee. Or sometimes if I want a sit down when we come back from an outing. So when I find her playing happily by doing some cutting of paper (a current favourite thing to do), or making up stories with her toys, I feel like she's getting some kind of balance - and I do love eavesdropping on her play! Some of the re-enacted stories are pretty funny.
In the car today E had a soft toy bunny, and was telling me all about how the other bunnies were at home resting, but this bunny was coming in the car for an adventure. She talked about how the bunny gets scared when things are "too noisy" and how she makes the bunny feel safe by giving her lots of cuddles to feel better. She spoke of how sometimes bunny likes to play with friends and sometimes by herself. I definitely got a sense that E was talking about herself through bunny. She also says she likes to play by herself, gets shy in large groups of children, and likes a bit of peace sometimes.
At a recent bouncy castle party, my heart broke a little watching E reluctantly join in, and even then only once I'd worked at it, despite the fact she loves all soft play. Once going she had a brilliant time bouncing......on her own. E played by herself, not with the other children, doing her own thing around them as they played together. She does this a lot in group situations, if there are more than about 4-6 children present. Something about it makes me feel so sad for E, even if she's having fun on her own. I suppose I worry she's missing out on building friendships with the other children, and am fearful that she might be lonely when she's older. I think this is partly because when we've been out with friends before, and E's ignored them, she'll decide she wants to play with them when it's too late, and then feels sad and upset because they didn't get to play together (no matter how much I try to pre-empt this with her beforehand). Having said that, we went to another birthday party this afternoon with some of her friends, and in the car on the way home she proudly told me "I played with my friends today, I wasn't shy this time!". She was so pleased with herself, bless her. Result!
I'm sure E will be fine, that she'll go on to forge friendships in her own way, albeit more slowly than some children might. I also know that I am much more anxious about this than she is, and that's due to my own experiences through the teenage years. At the end of the day, as her parents, the OH & I will make sure she has social skills of some kind, and plenty of opportunities to play with other children, so I know that will be good enough. Not everyone is an extrovert, and that's ok. Whoever she turns out to be, she will be loved for who she is.*
*Bratty behaviour will neither be loved, nor tolerated. We will always love E, but over the years we may not always love the way she behaves!