Posted by: Hannah | 01/27/2012

advice, i needs some

I have a question, both to parents who have kids in dayhome care, and to other dayhome folks, too.

Marie is posing a bit of a problem for me. (Quick recap – she’s three and a half, she’s an only child, she goes to preschool two days a week and comes to me for the other three days.)

She is not terribly enthusiastic about most things, and she’s not very good at making her own fun, so I find the days with her challenging to say the least. No activity will hold her attention for more than 10 minutes, 15 at the outside (except for puffy paint), and she’s not keen on role-playing, which is what the other kids her age spend much of their time doing.

What she does want to do, to the exclusion of everything else, is play Baby Elephant with her stuffed animal, a beanie baby named Dali.

It’s to the point now where if the other children do ask her to play – which is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence – she just shrugs and goes back to the elephant. She has been known to demand that the other kids play elephant with her, but since that involves sitting quietly and watching while she bottle-feeds said creature, no one ever will.

Just this week, the elephant started breaking rules. Marie takes toys from the other kids, and blames the elephant. She hits kids with the elephant, but that can’t be her fault because “Dali did it”.

When clean up time comes, she makes the elephant painstakingly pick up items by holding the front feet and getting one toy at a time.

I have to remind her not to take the damned thing in the bathroom (because ew) or to have it on the table during meals (because not on my watch, sister).

Here’s my question (it has parts):

  1. If this were your child, would you want to know that she spends 75% of the day ignoring human beings in favour of a stuffed animal?
  2. Since she seems happy while doing the ignoring, should I be concerned about this or just let her go (after offering her an alternative amusement that gets rejected, of course)?
  3. Should I try limiting the amount of time she spends with the elephant?

Here’s why I’m struggling – when she’s playing with the elephant it’s a lot easier on me, because she requires nothing. When she’s not playing with the elephant, she needs constant stimulation and attention. I don’t want to be doing her a disservice in order to make my life less frustrating, but if she’s happy do I really have any business interfering? I mean, it’s not like she’ll be taking the damned elephant down the aisle, or anything. And as long as the elephant is following the rules (and yes, I have put it in time out before for rule-breaking, because putting Marie in time out seems to make no impact whatsoever) I don’t care if she wants to have it around.

I get that comfort objects and loveys are very important, but is there a point where I should be concerned that it’s replacing real-life interactions?

Do I worry too much?

What do you think? Should I just say nothing and let this phase take its course? Or should I talk it over with her parents and see if she does this at home too, and if they are concerned?





  1. I would say that you should definitely speak to the parents about it and ask if she exhibits similar behaviour at home and if so ask what their approach is.

    I would also let her play w/ the elephant if it makes your and her life easier. This is likely a stage she’s working through and it sounds as if she has to find her own way through it. That’s not to say she’ll be able to get through it completely on her own but she does sound reluctant to be steered in any other way. It will likely end up being frustrating for all of you (the other kids included) to take any other approach.

    M had a lot of quirky stages like this when she was younger. She also didn’t like playing with other children at all. At all. Now she’s highly socialized and one of the most popular kids in her class. (That said, M was all about the role playing at that age.)

    So, there you have it. Ass-vice. I also realize you didn’t ask for my opinion, so please feel free to ignore. It’s just that I had one of those anti-social, stuffie-obsessed, only-child kids.

  2. She bears a lot of resemblance to my 7yo who used to love to just sit in his room, waving a block around and humming. Later he would wave a block around, hum and call it a movie.
    He did play with his brother fairly well, but I often had to force it.
    Even now, at 7 he has to be reminded to play with the other kids at lunch and not his finger. (who he named fingery.)
    I would talk to her parents, but I also would only force the play issue every so often.
    K is a delightful, fairly well adjusted child who just lives in his own world. We are slowly but surely giving him the tools to cope in this one and one of those tools is allowing him more space to be himself than feels comfortable to me.
    The other tool, learning to socialize means that I will set a timer and he has to play with others, what they want for that length of time and then he can get back to his “movie”.

  3. I think it’s OK, for now. It may be how she copes with being with people she doesn’t know as well as she does her mom and dad. If it goes on for more than three more months, though, I might start to get a little concerned,

  4. I would definitely want to know about this, as the parent – especially since this is a situation where you are open to a number of possible approaches (so it won’t be the kind of uncomfortable conversation where people on both sides are committed to different agendas). You could easily stress that this isn’t a problem for you – her behaviour isn’t inconvenient in any way – so that it’s clear that this is really a conversation about what’s best for Marie.

    • Bea, thank you, you put it very clearly what I was groping for this morning. It’s not in any way a problem for me if she wants to play elephants all day long – I just feel a little strange about it when her dad picks her up and says “tell me about your day!” and it pretty much involves “I played with Dali. The End”.

  5. I would bring it up to the parents because I would want to know, but it might just be a stage that she needs to go through. My older son used to insist on taking a plastic white tiger everywhere with him (Tigey). He is a quirky fellow who had – and still has – this enormous imaginary world. He did play with other kids, especially his brother, but he certainly would get lost in his own world for hours at a time. He plays with other kids much more now, but he still will talk about his imaginary world.

    I think it’s probably okay that Marie just plays with her elephant all day as long as the elephant is following the rules. Maybe the elephant has to be put on a shelf at clean up time and then he can go back to Marie after.

    Like I said I would talk to the parents but keeping in mind that she is in preschool twice a week, she is probably getting socializing in there. If she was alone, at home, she would probably be just playing stuffed animals too.

    We used to be invited over for playdates to this little girl’s house, and she NEVER wanted to play with my boys. She just wanted to dress up her doll or pretend she was in a tent or something. Her mother was so stressed, she would practically force some imaginary role-playing, and it never, ever worked. I haven’t seen this little girl for some time but I imagine once she was in school it worked itself out.

    • And thank you all, everyone, for your input on this one. It’s reassuring to know that this is more common behaviour than I thought. I’m used to a certain amount of introversion – Ron, after all, needs to have a couple of hours every day to himself to ‘hear the quiet sounds’ as he told me once – but it’s the consistent refusal to interact with the other kids that had me worried. I think I will still ask her parents about it, but very casually for now, and in the meantime I’ll just take it as a welcome break if she just wants to play baby elephants instead of doing structured activities.

  6. I’d just want to toss in that maybe Dali should be put in timeouts if he’s not following the rules, like on a high shelf? Not long ones, because clearly he is something that she relies on, but it should be clear that Dali needs to follow the rules just like everyone else.

    Also, when you said role playing, I totally pictured a bunch of 3 year olds playing D&D.

  7. It sounds like she technically IS role playing…just not, you know, with other kids. I’m not particularly experienced with 3 year olds (apart from my own), but it sounds like a phase that she just needs to go through.

    Also, my imaginary friend “Sally Whips” went through a stage where she used to pinch my brother (when he was brand new). My mom told me to tell Sally Whips that if she kept pinching Allen, *I* would get a spanking. It worked like a charm. Not that I’m advocating spanking Marie, but I think putting Dali in a time out until he can follow the rules could be effective.

    …annnnnnd now I can’t stop picturing the entire dayhome group playing D&D. Pure gold. Thanks, Grace! 🙂

  8. I also vote that it’s probably a normal stage, but worth a casual mention. It seems that when my boys refuse to play with friends it has a lot to do with control and wanting to play something that they fully understand and can do just the way they like.
    I don’t think there’s a problem with telling her that Dali must sit on the couch or shelf while she participates in a group activity a few times a day if you think it would be good for her (or you). I would imagine that there are times when it would be nice to have her participation without the buffer of a toy. Circle time or art time or simply “we are all doing blocks/puzzles/whatever now” time. Since you already put Dali away for meals you could extend the limit pretty easily, I bet.
    I wonder if a double time-out would be more effective for poor behavior that she tries to blame on the poor elephant. Like, “you and Dali hit Ron, so you will have a time-out on the step and Dali will have one on the shelf.” I’m guessing that she knows very well that it isn’t truly the elephant’s fault, so any protests could be met with a simple “you were holding Dali when she took the toy from your friend, so you will both have a consequence.”
    I hope this doesn’t mean your day is full of incessant, squeaky, baby elephant noises!

  9. @Meg: I know, it would be the greatest dayhome evar!

  10. Rosalyn does the same with pencils…not to the same degree now like she once did, but there were years when it was just her and two unsharpened pencils (since sharpened pencils are teh devil…) She told stories with them, sang to them, all kinds of introverted activities, and now, she’s popular and enjoys her friends….but still wants her pencils sometimes. She’s always had some form of comfort object and I’m cool with it. However, I warn people about it since it is kinda…odd. So like everyone else said, make sure the parents are aware, continue to try and engage, and otherwise, worry not.

  11. Jada’s comment brought back a memory. My oldest stepson used to play with pens and pencils all the time. They talked to each other, they fought, they answered his questions. They didn’t interact with anyone else, just with him. It was pretty damned weird, but it seemed harmless, and we just let it go.

    He’s an adult now, married, with a baby daughter … and I don’t think he’s talked to a pencil in *years*… 🙂

    I see Marie’s fixation on Dali as much the same sort of harmless. But would I milk the attachment when necessary? You betcha. That thing is a gold mine as far as leveraging for good behaviour.

    For example, I would hold Dali while Marie cleaned up, and she could get him back when she’d completed the task in a reasonable period of time. If ‘Dali’ starts to misbehave, well, Dali would have to have a time out where Marie can’t touch him. If Dali’s misbehaviour got too bad, I would explain that I expect Marie to teach Dali to behave, and that if he won’t/she can’t, he either can’t come to daycare at all, or will have to spend the day in a bag in the closet with her coat. I’m thinking Dali could be hugely useful.

    Not everyone has the same social drive. As long as she’s developing good manners, knows *how* to engage with others appropriately, and will join the group for occasional group activities, it would be fine with me if she mostly prefers her own company. (In fact, I may just have described myself in that last sentence…)

  12. I think @Grace’s idea is BRILLIANT.

  13. @maryp OMFG, someone else did that! I feel better now….I thought my kid was more than slightly off! :p

  14. […] Marie’s stuffed elephants. I have started leaving her to own devices, which is giving mixed results. She will play by herself for a while, but then she goes from kid to kid asking them to play baby elephants with her. And no one will, because baby elephants is a dull, boring, annoying game. Then she stands in front of me, unblinking, not speaking, with her lower lip protruding slightly, and when I speak to her she always responds “I’m boh-wed!” in a whiny too-twee voice. Also, baby elephant has evolved slightly; it now involves Marie pretend-crying in an incredibly loud and high-pitched voice for a minute or two; she then reverts to her own voice to say “shh, shh, it’s OK, no crying in the night, Mommy wants to sleep” (interesting glimpse into the home life, there) – and then the crying starts up again. Forever. […]

  15. […] it’s true. With a couple of notable exceptions, I grow to love the kids in my care. I get to know their likes and dislikes, I delight in their […]

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