Do you have kids who constantly need to be entertained?
It doesn’t matter how many toys you buy them, how much tv they get to watch, or what kind of a schedule you put them on, they are always telling you they’re bored and have nothing to do?
A LOT of parents deal with this issue and feel frustrated because they constantly have to think of ways to keep their kids occupied. But it seems like no matter what they do, their kids still want their attention and they can hardly find a moment to themselves to get things done.
Enjoying having fun playing alone is a skill that kids in this generation are often missing out on.
A common theme I hear from parents is that they feel guilty for not giving their kids their full attention all the time.
What most parents don’t understand is giving your children constant attention is actually doing them a disservice, not to mention that you will end up driving yourself crazy!
While it’s important to give individual attention in a some areas and to spend plenty of quality time with your kids, they also need to learn to be alone and to play alone! This isn’t just so we as parents and caregivers can keep our sanity, it’s also for their own good. Play is incredibly fun and educational. It’s how kids learn about conflict management, communication, and all kinds of other skills including how to enjoy being alone! Which will serve them throughout their lives.
When I was very young, I had a nanny job where I was working really long hours. The kids were 6 and 10 years old and I was responsible for them almost 24/7.
They were relatively high maintenance kids and were used to being provided with a lot of entertainment and activities. For the first couple of months we had fun thinking of make believe games and crafts and adventures. But after a few months of this, I became exhausted by trying to come up ways to entertain them all day long while also trying to make sure they were cared for. They could hardly keep themselves occupied long enough for me to make them a meal. I became desperate to find a solution so I wouldn’t be so tired all the time and could do a good job caring for them.
I started thinking about how I was raised and as a kid how I used to absolutely LOVE spending time alone in my room or playing outside for hours with my siblings. We had imaginary worlds and great games we would play. And I remembered that this was actually something I really valued about my childhood. The days where my brother and I would shut ourselves in our room for hours making up elaborate games and characters were some of my best memories and actually one of the places where I developed a lot of my creativity and personality.
So why weren’t these kids doing this? So I decided we had to try something different…
I created a “down time” once a day for one hour where the girls went to their rooms alone to play whatever they wanted. During that hour, I went into my room, rested and took a break.
At first they complained – they were bored, there was nothing they liked to do in their rooms, and they even asked me – “isn’t it your job to play with us?”
Even though it was tough to listen to their complaints and question if I was doing the right thing, I stuck with it. At that time, I had to in order to keep my sanity. But eventually I realized it was not only what was best for me, but it was best for them as well!
I told them if they were bored they could just sit in their rooms alone for an hour but the time would go faster if they found something to do during that hour.Their rooms were filled with toys, books and creative activities that could keep them busy all day.
I didn’t give in despite their complaints and whining and on the third or fourth day I peeked into the little one’s room and I saw her sitting and writing down things about her day in her journal. It was adorable because she hardly knew how to write but she had seen me writing in my room and she was looking for a way to spend that time alone!
So something had shifted… and before I knew it, the kids were breaking out toys they had forgotten all about and the time was flying by. Every day they started looking more and more forward to their downtime and finding new things to do.
And within a couple of months they started voluntarily going up to their rooms to play alone and to play with each other!
There were mornings when I would wake up and the girls had woken up early and were deeply engrossed in playing together and they didn’t even want me to disturb them! It was such a breath of fresh air.
Now, at that time I was extremely young and my discovery came out of desperation but since then I have helped many families to encourage their kids to play alone and to discover the joy of independent play so I want to share some of the tools I have found that work best over the years…
So – let’s break it down for you to practice with your kids.
Start small and gradually add time
Depending on your child’s maturity, they may only be able to play alone for 5 or ten minutes at first but just keep encouraging them! When they play alone for longer amounts of time point out that you notice how engrossed they were in their play and how focused they seemed. Give them specific acknowledgment and encouragement.
Then each day, add 5 more minutes to the time they play alone. You can even do this with babies! Don’t let them scream and cry but if they are just fussing and complaining, let them play alone for 1 or 2 minutes, then go over, get them engaged again and then step away. Don’t pick them up or give in immediately. You children are always going to want your attention no matter what their age but they have to learn that you are always there for them but sometimes have to do your own things as well. With younger kids, you can also experiment with slowly increasing the distance between you. Start by sitting on their play mat next to them and reading for example and the next day move to the couch. Little actions create big results when you are consistent
Stick With It Even When You Feel Like It’s Not working
Of course, some kids will be more vocal than others by complaining and even crying. Let them know you hear that they don’t like it. It is their choice to find something to play with or to just sit and complain but you’ll return in X amount of time. Pretty soon, your kids will be getting engrossed in their play on their own and you’ll be so proud of yourself and them.
If they are over 5 or 6 – you can start with longer intervals – maybe 15 or 30 minutes the first time, and remind them gently, “this is our alone time, for me to get things done and you to play. You can sit and do nothing if you want but the time will pass more quickly if you choose something fun to do”
Don’t get discouraged if they just sit and pout for the first week. They will eventually find something to do and remember that it’s not in their best interest to entertain them all the time. Kids who can learn to enjoy spending time alone will grow up to be resourceful, independent, and successful.
Provide your child with ideas and options of what to do
Whatever your child’s age, one way to help them is to make sure they have a few fun and age appropriate options to keep themselves occupied but not SO many options that they become overwhelmed or overstimulated.
For example, if you have a two year old – set them up across the living room from you and put out their coloring books, a few puzzles, and one other toy set they enjoy. That way they have clear options of what they can spend their time doing but you aren’t choosing for them. They can always choose something else but giving them options will help them learn to find things for themselves.
Ideally, avoid this down time including screens. Trust that your kids can discover whole new worlds of play and adventure on their own!
The great thing about this tip is you can start this at ANY age. Whether you have a 13 year old constantly complaining about being bored or a 10 month old who won’t play in their playpen without you there.
So if you are struggling to get your kids playing on their own just try these few steps – start with small amounts of time and slowly increase your time and distance, stick with it even if your kids are still complaining – encourage your kids and remind them how much fun alone time can be, and finally provide them with age appropriate options for activities and let them start exploring.
If you stick with it you will soon be enjoying some new found alone time to take care of yourself or get some things done!
Thanks so much for tuning in to the Parenting Hotline. When you parent with intention, you can truly have it ALL — happy kids, a harmonious home, and a life you love.