When schools were closed this spring and my partner and I were working from home, our children had such a difficult time entertaining themselves while we worked. Do you have any tips for helping kids play by themselves?
I’ve been asked this question a lot over the past few months. A few things to consider before I dive in to offer solutions: What are your child’s age, temperament and experience level? Generally, children get better at playing alone as they get older and have more experience finding things to do on their own. Some children are just born better at entertaining themselves. Other children, even if you try all the suggestions below, have a much harder time. Try not to think of it as something you or they have done wrong and keep working on it.
USE A VISUAL TIMER
Start with small chunks of time, like 15 or 30 minutes, and use a visual timer so they can see how much time is left.
If your children are playing independently, let them stay in the flow. Don’t ask questions, get involved or interrupt unless you absolutely have to.
PROVIDE AN ENVIRONMENT CONDUCIVE TO PLAY
Get rid of everything your children don’t play with. Put some toys in rotation so that when they make an appearance after a few weeks away, they feel new again. Have labelled bins and shelves to make it easy to find something to play with and put it away. You might spend more time tidying up, but you will be rewarded with more uninterrupted time.
It takes some effort and advance planning on your part and you might need to call on your reserves of patience, but if you start small, support them and keep insisting, most kids can learn to love their independent time.
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Sarah Rosensweet is a peaceful parenting coach and parenting advice columnist for Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 13, 16, and 19). Sarah teaches parents a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Enjoy your kids again! Find her at sarahrosensweet.com