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To ask whether 6 year olds should be able to play independently

(17 Posts)
Spry Sun 31-May-20 19:54:50

I can't work out if I'm a helicopter parent or a neglectful one.

My six year old boy-girl twins seem to want to play with me ALL the time. I feel as though I'm struggling to keep on top of the basics such as housework and preparing meals because the children are forever pestering me to get involved with whatever they're up to.

I'm sure I just went off and played for hours on end when I was their age, without needing to be given guidance on what I should be doing. I feel that playing independently is something they should be better at doing by now. But they constantly interrupt whatever I'm up to - which I find strangely stressful, as I really hate leaving tasks half-finished.

Of course, I tell/encourage them to go off and play but I end up feeling that I'm being unfair for not giving them more attention and I get drawn into their games/activities. (I do enjoy playing with them - I just don't feel I have the time to do so as much as they would like.)

My partner and I spend far too much of our evenings catching up with all sorts of basic tasks that I really think I should have been able to accomplish during the day. He is working 8.30am-6pm from home at the moment. I lost my job when lockdown hit so I'm doing virtually all the home-schooling and childcare during those hours (though he does his share first thing in the morning and the evening and generally gives me a bit of child-free time over lunch too).

We have a large-ish house, a medium-sized and very safe garden, so I feel the children shouldn't need my near constant involvement in their play. They get on very well together by the way - it's not that I have to sort out lots of disputes between them.

So, how much of the day should six year olds be able to play independently? And what are people's top tips for getting them to do so if they're struggling with this?

Thank you for any advice on this.

OP’s posts: |
UnderTheBus Sun 31-May-20 20:04:53

Yes 6 year olds should be able to play independently. My 3 year old plays independently. However, I have always encouraged this, and it will probably be tricky to start now if they've had 6 years of you always playing with them.

I would start with small chunks. "I'm going to (make dinner) for (5 minutes). Why dont you (draw a picture of what we did today)?" And set a timer

hauntedvagina Sun 31-May-20 20:08:38

My DS is fantastic at keeping himself entertained, however he was a only child for a long time. Perhaps as twins they've always been able to entertain each other and now as they get older and maybe want to focus on more stereotypical boy/girl play they no longer feel like they can play with each other as much.

Mrswalliams1 Sun 31-May-20 20:10:31

I've 6 yr old twins too and i have the same problem. I've started sending them away to play for 30 mins telling them I have jobs to do. Theyve learnt the time so I tell them when I'll be finished and I do that 2/3 times a day and slowly they have improved and are now going off without any promting to play.

devildeepbluesea Sun 31-May-20 20:10:33

It's entirely personality driven IMO. DD isn't great at age 7, but my nephew has always entertained himself (both only children).

raspberryk Sun 31-May-20 20:11:32

My 5 yo can play independently all day. Sometimes she can whinge or whatever but she goes and finds something else once she knows I'm busy and she can't have her ipad/tv.
I don't really do playing though so my kids know to just get on with it.

isthistoonosy Sun 31-May-20 20:12:31

I have a boy and girl, 5 and 6 yrs old. They pretty much just play together all day without us needing to be involved. We have of course wiped grazed knees and fed and watered them.
As PP said, we have always just assumed this would be the case so it has built up over time. I sometimes think we are shit parents that ignore the kids but the seem happy so I guess it is ok.

Ilovechocolatetoomuch Sun 31-May-20 20:12:56

My 6 year old has always found it hard to play alone, although up until recently he was an only child.
He has got so much better over the last year, I think some kids just find it more difficult than others, especially if you have always played with them.
What I find worked for me is to have all the toys put away and only get certain things out at a time. Too many toys and he just didn’t know where to start.
I played alone loads as a child but my parents never played with me so I had no choice lol.

Stannisbaratheonsboxofmatches Sun 31-May-20 20:18:03

My ds is 6 and I’ve noticed his ability to play independently has waned a bit during lockdown, and he wants more attention from me.

I think not seeing school friends to play with during the day takes its toll. I guess it supports their ability to play alone at other times.

Sadly his sister, my dd, is not keen to play with him either as she is 11 and frequently wants to be left alone.

Ragwort Sun 31-May-20 20:20:02

My DS (only child) always played independently, apart from board games or something like that. It never occurred to me to "play" with him when he had toys blush... different if we were in the garden or beach for example playing cricket or with a ball.

Agree with a PP not to overwhelm your D.C. with toys, I was very strict and only put certain things out and hid or got rid of toys I didn't like.

The answer is to say you are busy, and give them a specific time when you can play with them. Or give them chores to do if they want to be with you.

kaleidoscopeantebellum Sun 31-May-20 20:20:26

All three of mine have always played independently for an hour or two.

CherryPavlova Sun 31-May-20 20:21:28

They’ll be playing independently at school with minimal equipment. Put them in the garden and tell them to remain there for an hour whilst you hoover/drink tea/do laundry.
Guilt isn’t healthy but being bored is.

DominaShantotto Sun 31-May-20 20:21:36

One of mine has never been able to and still struggles at age 8, the other has always been good at doing it.

Personality seems to dictate it - the 8 year old is better now she's the age she can do drawing and crafts and stuff but still not brilliant - the other child will play for hours and only reappear for food.

Diverseduvet Sun 31-May-20 20:26:17

I would start them off then say you have to go off to do xyz. They should then hopefully be able to continue.

Wibblewobble99 Sun 31-May-20 20:32:55

Have a look at 5 minute mum on Instagram. She’s got loads of activities not only for you to do but to encourage the kids to play on their own. I would also encourage you to explain to them that you have to do X or Y but when it’s done you’ll play. I’ve been wfh with my toddler and learnt the best way to get her to play independently is to set up a game or task, show her how it works, and leave her to it. Doesn’t work 100% of the time but has enabled me to get some work done in the last 10 weeks. And don’t forget it may just be the upheaval and loss of friendships due to Covid, they may grow out of it. Good luck. X

Montsti Sun 31-May-20 20:35:01

My 2.5 year old plays independently. She’s my youngest of 4 but I’ve encouraged all 4 to play independently from an early age..

BillysMyBunny Sun 31-May-20 20:52:26

It sounds like it’s not necessarily that they don’t know how to play independently but rather that know if they pester you for long enough you’ll cave in and join in playing with them. If you were actually unavailable I’m sure they would be able to entertain themselves but they’ve gotten into the habit of wanting you to join them and they’ve learnt that if they keep asking you will stop what you’re doing and play.

I think you need to clearly divide up your day, set aside some scheduled time in the day in which you will do household jobs and then later in the day some scheduled time where you’ll play with them. If they ask you to play beforehand be firm in your resolve not to, and if they keep pestering warn that because they’re slowing you down your job will take longer. Reduce the time to play with them by 5 minutes each time their pestering slows you down and stand your ground around being busy and after a few days I expect they will realise that it’s actually more fun to go off and play together whilst you’re busy than to pester you as you’re not going to give in.

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