Inside: An explanation of sittervising (to supervise from a seated position) from the architect of the term.
I’m well aware what people may think of me as I sit on the park bench watching my kids run off and play. I’m the opposite of most parents at the park, who often closely follow behind their children or stand in the center at arm’s reach.
Not me. I hang back, find myself a spot with a clear view, and sit.
I’m sittervising. That’s what I call this.
And I’m doing it because I know it’s what’s best for my children and one of my best parenting tools for supporting their development and learning.
Sittervising, I have to tell you, is way more than it seems.
But what exactly is sittervising?
Sittervising means to supervise children from a seated position. Instead of playing with my children at all times or hovering around them at a playground, I’m good to watch their play from a (safe to me) distance.
Sittervising is a conscious decision I’ve made in my parenting.
Though it may look basic from the outside (“It’s a parent sitting to supervise”), sittervising is anything but simple.
In reality, sittervising is steeped in child development research, best practices, and a deep knowledge of pedagogy. I’m happy to flash my qualifications really quick, before diving into sittervising: I was a kindergarten and first grade teacher. I’ve taught hundreds of children. I’ve parented for 9 years (I have 3 kids). Along with my Bachelor’s in Elementary Education, I have a Master’s in Early Childhood Education. Yes, I’m just some Lady on the Internet, but I do know a thing or two about child development.
I’d love to share what I know with you.
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Busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting: From Their First “No” to Their First Day of School (and Everything in Between)
Sittervising is a tool for promoting skill development in children
The very basis of sittervising is to remove the adult from directly interacting (and sometimes interfering) with the child’s play or activity – because kids need play experiences without adults.
Child development truth: Adults change play.
Even with the best intentions, the presence of an adult in a child’s play activity changes the nature of the play. In play, children make decisions, plan, solve problems, modify, adjust, and think critically as they move their play along (Ginsburg, 2007; Gray, 2017).
The most serious and significant knowledge and skill building in childhood takes place during a child’s playtime. Play is the backbone of child development (Yarmon et al, 2015) and there are skills in childhood that cannot form properly without it (Gray, 2015).
Adults, like I said, change play.
Consider what happens to play when there is an adult playing too. Now, there is someone of authority to solve the problem. There’s a moderator. Adults can shift the plans and directions to help. They’re likely to step in before a problem occurs. An adult will modify and adjust, and attempt to keep players happy.
With an adult playing, play no longer has its full benefits and the life lessons children might have developed in this play activity diminish (Gray, 2017). The growth and development of skills, which include problem solving, risk management, communication skills, imagination, divergent thinking, and cooperation are disrupted (again, unintentionally) by an adult’s presence in play.
While jumping in to play with kids or float around them at the playground may seem like the best choice for a parent (They’re engaging! They’re connecting! They’re keeping the child safe!), it isn’t always*.
*Note my always tag: With everything child development, there are nuances. You will always be the best judge of your child’s needs and where they are at on their journey.
Parents playing and hovering interferes with necessary and critical opportunities for a child to develop skills. In sittervising, the distance between parent and child takes on a whole new meaning and importance.
Should you NEVER play with your child and NEVER help them?
OF COURSE NOT.
We love playing with our kids and sometimes we absolutely need to help them develop or try a new skill (I’m looking at you, monkey bars) safely.
Playing with kids is also a fantastic way to build a relationship with them (but far from the only way). But it’s important to recognize there are some skills that can’t develop fully if we are forever and always playing with them or forever and always right at their side on a playground.
It is in the space between parent and child that skills blossom.
Sittervising supports a parent’s needs, too
In recent years, there has been a monumental shift in parenting and the expectations of what “good parenting” looks like.
These shifts show parents dedicating more time, money, and energy to child-rearing than previous generations (Babuc, 2015). Although a noble cause to up our parenting “game,” this has consequences.
With the increased expectation that parents should be fully active in a child’s playtime, under the false assumption that this is for the child’s benefit, the result is (sadly) a diminished amount of time for the parent’s own life or their various jobs (Babuc, 2015).
In short, spending all free time playing with the child not only causes a potential loss of skill building opportunities for the child but it burns the parent out.
This is where understanding sittervising can help.
When sittervising doesn’t involve sitting
Sometimes, I sittervise my children. I pull out a lawn chair to be outside with them as they play. At the park, I find a bench and hang out. I look for the few-and-far-between spaces for a parent to sit at the children’s museum. I can keep them safe from a safe distance.
Other times, sittervising is more like “laundry-vising” or “dishes-vising.” I can’t always just sit, read, answer emails, or chat with a friend while the kids are playing. I have lots of other jobs to get done and I use their playtime to do those.
I know that in playtime without me, the most amazing skill building is happening.
I know that in playtime without me, I’m able to get chores and jobs done to be a more present and less stressed parent to my children.
Sittervising, or vaccuum-vising, cook-vising, and whatever other iteration of supervising/sittervising I need to do to keep my family afloat is what I plan to do.
Remember: sittervising is not lazy parenting
Let’s review, shall we?
Sittervising is the conscious decision by a parent to give their child space to play independent of an adult. In this play, the most fantastic skill building and child development opportunities occur.
Sittervising is also the conscious decision by a parent to address their own needs and jobs. Parenting takes major effort and time. Sittervising offers a respite and a chance to do tasks otherwise put off.
I’m not choosing to sittervise my kids because I’m a lazy parent.
I’m a parent who knows exactly what she’s doing. And should you happen to see me out sittervising, feel free to share my bench.
FAQ ABOUT SITTERVISING:
Here is a quick hits FAQ about sittervising. After years of sharing about sittervising, these are the questions that come up the most.
When can you start sittervising a child?
From birth! Consider a baby on a play mat, totally engrossed in the toy above their head. You don’t need to interrupt that. Sit back and watch. Watch as they self-entertain and explore this toy on their own. Watch as they learn about the toy on their own. Listen for the cues that they are done playing. Sittervising time is over. It’s time to reconnect with them.
Sittervising little by little even in the baby stage is possible – and the more you give them space, the longer they’ll self-entertain (the first step in independent play).
What about single child families?
Single child families need independent play – and sittervising – too.
Play, even when solo, develops skills. Parents of single children still have jobs to do and batteries to recharge. Sittervising while the child independently plays is still crucial for these families.
There’s a big myth that siblings means a child has a friend to always play with. That’s not true. Age spread, interest, temperament, ability levels, and schedules don’t always allow for children with siblings to have a peer to play with.
What if your child won’t allow you to sittervise?
Independent play without an adult’s support is a skill children must learn. This has major skill building implications, as we’ve discussed.
Grow your child’s independent play skills (check out this post I wrote) to help them find their play without you – and to give you the sittervising opportunities you need.
Babuc, Z. T. (2015). Exploring parental perceptions and preferences about play: A case study in Erzurum. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 197, 2417–2424. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.07.304
Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong Parent-Child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182–191. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2006-2697
Gray, P. (2015). Free to Learn (1st ed.). Basic Books.
Gray, P. (2017). What exactly is play, and why is it such a powerful vehicle for learning? Topics in Language Disorders, 37(3), 217–228. https://doi.org/10.1097/tld.0000000000000130
Yogman, M., Garner, A., Hutchinson, J., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., Baum, R., Gambon, T., Lavin, A., Mattson, G., Wissow, L., Hill, D. L., Ameenuddin, N., Chassiakos, Y. L. R., Cross, C., Boyd, R., Mendelson, R., Moreno, M. A., Radesky, J., Swanson, W. S., . . . Smith, J. (2018). The power of play: A pediatric role in enhancing development in young children. Pediatrics, 142(3). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-2058