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How do I teach 4yr old to play by himself

(31 Posts)
justgotbfp Fri 19-Sep-08 06:56:08

Obviously I am pg, I have severe hyperemisis and have been in and out of hospital. It seems (last 2 days) to be somewhat in control now but still nauseous and exhausted. My 4 year old has always had trouble separating from me and even more trouble entertaining himself. We have borrowed a t.v. at the moment which he thinks is bliss and gives me some down time (won't be keeping it though) so I need strategies to teach d.s. to play on his own a little (a.) for times when I am just too sick and (b.) in preparation for when lo2 comes. At the moment we do playgroup together 2 mornings a week (I stay with him), he goes to cm 2 days a week (6 hours, I was working but on sick leave at the moment) and we have Wed and every second weekend on our own. Alternate weekends dh is home. I spend a lot of one on one time with him reading, building, playing games such as snakes and ladders etc, play dough, craft, park, and other outings. We also go to playdates but again I stay or he wouldn't go.
I give him a time frame e.g "After this mummy is to have a rest and then I will play with you again" When the time comes I give him some ideas, "DS you could play with magnetics or read, mummy is going to have a rest" He just doesn't play though, he will throw the magnetics everywhere, go and pull the clothes off the hanger, go and unroll the toilet paper etc. I try to ignore and when it is time to play with him again tell him he needs to tidy up whatever he has destroyed. He will whine and shout and carry on and muck about and complain that he needs help etc which I ignore. This can last hours of him whining etc until he finally does it and then I will play with him for a bit until it is time to do something else at which point he kicks off again. There is no end to this!!!! I try to start him off playing with him and gradually withdrawing etc but the same thing happens. Not handling this well at the moment. When not sick I am much more able to distance myself from it and to cope with thee tantrums and whining, right now it is exhausting and disheartening.

justgotbfp Fri 19-Sep-08 06:57:31

whoops there wasn't supposed to be three of these threads???? how did that happen

FourArms Fri 19-Sep-08 07:06:55

Do you have a garden? My 4 year old spends most of his play time outside (weather permitting - we're out unless it's raining!) playing with his friends. Does he have many friends to play with? Although DS1 can entertain himself, give him another 4 year old and I'm guaranteed peace and quiet.

harpomarx Fri 19-Sep-08 07:20:42

that sounds like hard work, poor you!

some kinds of toys help kids play independently ime - i'm thinking cars, lego, trains, dolls houses, dressing up, cooking stuff etc etc.

I wouldn't expect a 4 year old who is very used to playing with mummy to entertain himself with a book for very long. You are very good to have done so much stuff with him, I must admit that at home I rarely play with dd and she no longer expects this (though loves it when I do). I don't think it is going to happen over night, I've been 'not playing' with dd for some time now.... she is also 4 and can be very clingy but home is her sanctuary and she quite often orders me out of her room!

can you re organise his room, make it really fun to play in?

justgotbfp Fri 19-Sep-08 07:21:47

he does have a garden but wants me out there pushing the swing, playing ball, going on slide with him. It is the same at the park he wants me to do it all with him. He is slowly improving when he is with a friend and able to play for short periods if given ideas but often they want to play transformers or pokemon games which he doesn't watch or have any clue about. He also tends to annoy others alot, getting in their face, taking their toys and hiding them etc. He is getting better but like I say needs ideas and will last short bursts before wanting me to read to him or something else with him.

justgotbfp Fri 19-Sep-08 07:25:17

harpomarx, yes he has cars, lego, trains, dolls house, etc and will play quite nicely with them if I am with him, the moment I leave him to get on with is mayhem. He has free access shelves in his room as well as special activities, games and toys which come down in rotation and put out on his table for a few weeks then changed. He takes no notice pretty much, he only plays in his room if he is supposed to be going to sleep and then everything is just tipped rather than played with.

justgotbfp Fri 19-Sep-08 07:28:34

by the way I have been doing the "me time" thing for around a year and things have not improved so it is not just since I have been sick it is just harder to deal with while I am sick. When I do spend time with him I try to give him play ideas, encourage his ideas and develop them etc but same old same old.

justgotbfp Fri 19-Sep-08 07:53:23

sorry bumping for more ideas, thanks

LoveMyGirls Fri 19-Sep-08 07:58:08

What happens when you are busy like cooking dinner? Does he play on his own or nag you to play? What happens if you make him wait for your attention, do you think he would get bored and go off and play?

justgotbfp Fri 19-Sep-08 08:01:07

cooking dinner he will usually want to help or nag me to play if he doesn't feel like cooking. If I make him wait for attention he trashes the place as I said. He always has to clear up afterwards before I will do things with him,

LoveMyGirls Fri 19-Sep-08 08:13:15

It does sound very tiring for anyone let alone pg and ill so you have my sympathy.

Have you tried talking to him? At 4 he should be able to understand you are not very well and very tired and you need to rest and he needs to play nicely. As for making a mess I would use time out for that type of distructive behaviour so he gets even less time and attention from you but you need to explain clearly to him what will happen if he behaves like that.


mummy needs rest for 5 minutes then we will play again
he starts throws things
please stop throwing and play nicely
if he carries on
if you keep throwing mummy will put you in time out (this is where he sits quietly for 4 minutes on the floor without playing or crying/ whinging etc everytime he starts the 4 minutes starts again until he has sat quietly reflecting on his behaviour)
when he has had time out you say do you know why you were put int ime out and explain it again then ask him to say sorry and to be a good boy now and give cuddles.

You have to be consistant and it is tiring.

justgotbfp Fri 19-Sep-08 08:26:22

thanks lmg. I have used time out in the past but it really didn't seem to work so thought maybe ignoring it when it happens and then getting him to clean it up before giving him attention might work better. It doesn't. Both DH and I have talked to him and when I am playing with him he is great..."You lie down mummy, I will bring the stories over for you to read" but when I want some time to myself for a rest, he is destructive again.
Do other 4 year olds really not need this much attention, I thought maybe it was just an age thing and he would get better as he got older. He will not be in a different room from me when at home nor will he for more than 5-10 minutes when at a playdate. At playgroup he will now sometimes go and play for a while, mostly on the swings or annoying the other children, then back to me again. On Wednesdays (our full weekday together I worked out he will get approx 8 hours 1 on 1 time doing what he wants to do, the rest is me prepping meals, toileting, chores etc out of a 12 hour day so I guess it feels worse than it is...4 hours to do other things seems reasonable, it is just he is so destructive during this time and it is so tiring.

FourArms Fri 19-Sep-08 08:38:18

Could you get him to do 5 mornings a week at a pre-school? That might teach him more about playing with other children in his age group. It's funded once they're 3, so wouldn't cost you anything.

FourArms Fri 19-Sep-08 08:43:40

If I just had my 4 year old, I could pretty much leave him to play by himself for 8 hours. I don't though! I will help him set up whatever he wants to play with - start a marble run, get the farm bits out, set out a rug for his lego.... but then he'll play with them by himself if I need to get on with things. However, I've also got a 2 year old so I do spend a lot of time playing with both of them.

If he's so destructive and just trashes all of his toys, I would put them out of his reach. All the 'bits' toys in our house are boxed up (lego, duplo, farm, marble run, brio builder....) so they can't just empty everything out. They can have 2 or even 3 boxes out at a time, but I try and get them to tidy up between boxes unless they're using them together (i.e making a zoo with duplo then putting the plastic animals in it).

justgotbfp Fri 19-Sep-08 08:46:39

we are not in the uk, he does do 2 days with a cm who has 3 other chidren. On Tues she has 3 x 4year olds and a 2 year old and Fri she has 2 x2 year olds, 1x1 year old and ds. He has been in preschool, he did not cope at all, at all, at all which is why we chose to go with a cm. I did try leaving him at playgroup the other day (they can stay when they are 2.5 and older) as felt so rubbish I had to. He was appalling there apparently and also afterwards when he came home.

justgotbfp Fri 19-Sep-08 08:52:53

he couldn't manage 8 minutes let alone 8 hours!! I do have special toys up and away mostly (ie things likely to just get tossed, lost etc) but I do get a small selection out for him on the table to play with. Mostly he only trashes his room at bedtime, during the day the destructiveness is mostly directed at house hold stuff. I only keep 1 roll of loo paper in the loo at a time as this is a prime target, it is currently up on the windowsill but he will climb up and get it, clothing off hangers, cutlery drawer tipped out, clothing out of drawers, pegs everywhere, that sort of stuff. He doesn't really show that much interest in toys though will play with them nicely if I play too...his favourite things to do are board games (need at least 2 people), ball games (t ball, rugby) will only play with someone, stories, stories, stories. I have got a couple of audio stories for him which depending on his mood he will sometimes listen to but only if it is in the same room as I am in, if not he will just come and find me and destroy stuff.

mrsgboring Fri 19-Sep-08 09:03:56

My DS is just under 3 so I sympathise, but don't have any specific 4 yo experience...

Was going to suggest that you made him play with you at the sofa as you lie down, but I see you already do that.

Perhaps you're just too good a playmate. Can you gradually become more boring? i.e. slow down your activities so you're not making any pace in the games, stop suggesting new things, make really boring shapes out of playdough, less enthusiastic swing pusher etc?

This has worked pretty well with me and DS - I've been a bit sad and distracted while TTCing and then v. sick with pg, and haven't been busting a gut doing my best for him. I'm still meeting his needs and playing with him but am definitely a crapper mummy than I was, and he's compensated by doing more himself.

It's rubbish for your self-esteem though. I don't feel like I'm doing anything properly at the moment, but I can get rest which is the important thing in pregnancy.

justgotbfp Fri 19-Sep-08 09:14:46

thanks mrsgboring, I will try that not that it will take alot of effort to be crap at playing at the moment as i can't raise enough energy to do anything much more but I think he is actually getting worse, perhaps tryinf to get me more engaged again or reacting to me being sick

HonoriaGlossop Fri 19-Sep-08 09:44:34

Unfortunately I think kids sense when you're not on top form, and they are always a nightmare!

My ds was like this. It is very hard work and tiring specially when not well but to be honest I don't think there is a way of withdrawing. Sorry. But I think the quickest way out of it is to give as much attention as you can because the more secure they feel in your attention the happier and more secure they are.

The thing that made a difference with my ds was starting school. He suddenly played alone when he got in, i think it was two things; needing to zone out after a long day of social activity, and being more independent at school; with no mum to look after you, there's a sudden growth of independence; because there HAS to be.

The things that gave me some time were:
TV - do NOT get rid of it, why the hell would you?grin
Baths - play-baths, he loved these and sometimes had two or three a day and I cuold at least sit there with a magazine while he was absorbed
when cooking dinner etc I let him play with water in the sink/play with pans from the cupboards etc
Also, keeping up a running commentary even if out in kitchen putting kettle/washing on, so that you are still 'playing'. Words are very important and can make it seem like you're still playing even when you're not.

justgotbfp Fri 19-Sep-08 09:55:16

oh thank you hg. Your ds sounds very similar...I have been using the bath and he is happy for me to lie on a bean bag and he will play for a while in there. I agree that withdrawing etc doesn't seem to work. I also agree he is very sensitive to what is going on and has always been reactive so that is why he is even worse at the moment. I usually enjoy my time with him when well though 8 hours can be a bit daunting at times. Hopefully school is the answer, he won't start until late next year here. The tv isn't ours we just borrowed it while I have been sick otherwise he used to be allowed to watch the occasional thing on the pc downloaded. His behaviour is usually much, much worse when he watches tv (and this is blues clues, bob builder, thomas not transformers etc but I have had to resort to it because some days I haven't been able to stand without vomitting and I don't have a lot of help though dh has taken time off now and then when I have been hospitilised,

HonoriaGlossop Fri 19-Sep-08 10:14:49

Is your DH around at weekends? I think you need as much break as possible then so that you start the week able to face more playing!

Someone will no doubt shoot me down in flames for being so sexist but I think it's a boy thing. Girls this age (IME) seem to look around themselves more, be more interested in the house, in what mum's doing etc. There is more chance to put washing on, cook etc because they are watching, interested and want to help (some of them!) Boys of this age, again IME and a sweeping generalisation, are focussed on what they want to do or play with, which is why some boys end up like this, wanting you to play with them at what they're doing rather than allowing you to get on - it's like they can't 'see' outside their immediate sphere of interest.

Also I think with a child like this, and specially with you unwell as you are, that you should feel able to take the pressure of about domestic stuff; your DH needs to support you by expecting to come in from work and do what you haven't been able to in the day. It won't be forever.

HonoriaGlossop Fri 19-Sep-08 10:16:18

sorry just remembered your DH only around alternate weekends. Is that absolutely set in stone? Can he change his arrangements for a while?

witchandchips Fri 19-Sep-08 10:22:18

I think children of that age (especially boys) want us to be around but not necesarrily to participate heavily in their play. Have you tried simply lying on the sofa doing your own stuff and throwing him the odd question. A good game is to be a prisoner. you get tied up so you can't move smile and you get ds to bring you pretend food or to go and catch more baddies (teddies, dinosaurs etc) to be in prison with you

Lanky Fri 19-Sep-08 10:23:01

I haven't read all this thread, so apologies if somebody else has suggested this, but have you tried story or music CDs? This has worked quite well for my DS. He often listens while playing. They don't have to be children's music CDs either. My ds is quite happy to listen to the White Stripes, or whatever while he is playing.

HonoriaGlossop Fri 19-Sep-08 10:26:28

LOVE the prisoner idea witch!

<<kicks self for not thinking of it when ds was smaller>>

<<thinks of all those lie downs on sofa missed out on>>

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