This weekend I was gifted with something precious to so many adults: alone time. I had a few things to do, people to see and things to take care of, but the bulk of my time was my own to do with as I pleased. What a gift…and sometimes, what a curse.
As our lives get busier with responsibilities, family and coordinating so many schedules, sometimes moments to ourselves can be few and far between. Now, we relish the time that we have on our own. But learning to spend time with yourself is a lesson for the ages. It’s not always a pleasant thing to be left alone with our thoughts. For kids, the same can be true. As children grow, become more verbal and are always under the supervision of someone, it can be difficult for them to learn to be on their own.
So how do we learn (and teach our kids) to spend quality time with just themselves?
Before I head off on an advice-giving rampage, I’d like to state for the record that depending on the day in question, I’m not that good at spending time alone. And that sometimes being on my own when I’m nervous about something only makes it worse because when I’m given the time and opportunity to over think, I usually do. So as I said, a lesson for the ages. If this was an easy matter to settle, then we’d all be living perfectly hermit-y lives. I’m only going to offer suggestions on how to build-up or promote alone time for kids.
Try not to interrupt solo-play
Have you ever happened upon your child completely entertaining themselves? There’s something kind of great about it, isn’t there? Sometimes we want to join in because it looks so sweet. Or we want to read them the book that they’re leafing through. These aren’t bad ideas and can be done sometimes, but if you want to focus on extending alone time for your child, then think before you interfere. The longer that they are allowed to play by themselves, the longer they will play by themselves.
Tell them that you can play a game with them in 5 minutes
Now it’s her responsibility to find something else to do before it’s time for you to play together. Make sure to set the timer if you have trouble keeping track of those 5 minutes. This way the child has something to look forward to, plus your together time instantly rewards her alone time! It also sets up a very concrete instance of playing by herself. It will be able to be referred to in the future: “You time, then a game with Daddy.”
This is also the perfect option for extending that time so that little by little, their time spent entertaining themselves is lengthened. Tomorrow it can be 7 minutes until you can go outside. The day after it can be 10 minutes until you can read a story together.
*One perk of this strategy is that you can also schedule micro-times for yourself to make that doctor’s appointment or send an email. So many things can be done in 10 minutes!
Try not to have alone time be accompanied by a screen
If your child gets to watch TV for the few minutes that they have to wait before you play your game, then they’re not really practicing their “all by myself” skills. You also run a greater risk that they’ll try to throw you over for more TV time.
This is a difficult task for most of us. When we’re waiting for the train or in line at the store, it’s easy for us to get a little screen time in. It’s always my turn in Words with Friends somehow (no joke: I just got nudged after I wrote that sentence).
This is a time when kids can explore all the books that they have or play with the myriad of toys that they own. This is when they can flex their creative muscles and make a drawing or a sculpture or a mess. “You made this mess all by yourself?!”
If you have more than one child and they’re used to keeping each other entertained, that’s awesome. You just might have to be a little more creative in producing opportunities for your kids to have some alone time, but the same strategies can work for you.
So if this strikes you as something you’d like to work on at your house, then you just might get some alone time out of it as well!
And we’ll all keep practicing being better company to the person we spend all of our time with: ourselves.