Your child wakes up to a sensory table of crafts and items for them to explore. You feed them healthy, colorful foods that are cut into fun shapes. You make sure they have plenty of social interaction. Everyone who is anyone follows your Pinterest board in hopes that they can do this mom-thing half as well as you can. You’re super mom and that’s wonderful! But, here is something that overachieving super-moms sometimes need to hear: Letting your children play by themselves is a GOOD thing.
Many moms get so into structuring an ideal environment for their children, they fail to teach their child the important skill of independence. You’ve been around these kids before – kids that require Mom’s constant attention or they lose their minds. That is not a healthy dynamic for mom or child.
As explained on Parents.com, “Teaching toddlers to entertain themselves isn’t just an essential sanity saver…it helps young kids build creativity and critical-thinking skills, says psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph. D., author of Einstein Never Used Flash Cards.”
Making your child have “alone time” each day is not a selfish act on your part. Yes, it is wonderful for you to have some down time, but it’s also vital for your child.
The article I cited earlier goes on to say that a study conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that a child was more likely to discover a toy’s function (the noises it makes, what it does, etc.) when left alone with it than when shown how to use it by a teacher.
What Independent Play Looks Like
If you’ve never had your child play independently before, it’s something you’ll want to ease into. Playing alone doesn’t necessarily mean playing without you around. You can be in the same room, but just try to allow your child to get in the zone, playing and learning by himself. Don’t jump in and correct how he’s playing or what he’s doing. Allow him to be creative. Let him pretend that fake phone is a race car. The crayon might become a spaghetti noodle (maybe step in before the crayon gets eaten). The point is, just back off a little bit and when your child enters his own little world, sneak off and start a load of laundry.
Independent play is not about locking your child in a room by himself and instructing him to “play” as he sobs for you at the door. Like I said, you can be there in the same room, or the room next door. You just don’t want to be actively engaged in playing with your child while facilitating this independent play.
How to Get it Going
If your child isn’t a fan of playing alone yet, there are steps you can take to help. WhatToExpect.com suggests the following:
- Show him what to do.
- Enforce boundaries.
- Don’t desert him.
- Give it time.
You want your child to learn independence, but there is nothing wrong with giving your child some pointers. Show your child a few things he can do with his blocks or dolls. Once he starts mimicking, leave him to it.
In regards to boundaries, start small. Be consistent in how you structure this time. What to Expect suggests setting a kitchen timer that your child can watch. When the time is up, he can have your full attention again. Once he sees that this is a safe and structured routine, he’ll be far more likely to cooperate.
If your child wants you to stay with him, stay with him. Pick up a book and read on his bed while he plays blocks. This will build his confidence and make him feel secure. He will, eventually, get so into whatever he’s doing, he won’t even notice if you get up and leave the room.
Don’t sweat it if it’s a challenge, at first. Your child will eventually grow to love alone time. My daughter will often say, “Mommy, I’m going to go play doctor, but BY MYSELF. I’m a big girl.”
Like anything you train your child to do, making it a fun and exciting accomplishment helps. You want your child to come to appreciate being in charge of his or her little domain, free to be expressive and creative without Momma Bear hovering.