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I'd like to talk about encouraging an only child to play by himself

(20 Posts)
bummedmummy Sun 15-Jan-17 19:51:18

Hi all

Does anyone have any advice or experience with encouraging an only child to play independently?

My DS, 4, always wants me for his playmate and absolutely refuses to play by himself. Recently I've been really resenting this as I don't enjoy playing (happy to do more projecty stuff like painting or baking but the "pretend to be an octonaut" thing drives me round the wall). I'm not quite sure how this has happened - before I had a child I was determined to have a kid who was reasonably good at entertaining or herself but opposite seems to have happened!

I think part of the problem is that on some level I feel guilty about the fact that he's an only child (although I'm very happy with only one) - and also, let's face it, I'm crap at standing up to the tragic weeping creature who suddenly appears whenever I suggest he plays by himself.

He's in school (where he plays by himself ok according to the teachers) and we do the usual play dates and activities out and about. But I DO think that this playing alone thing is an important skill for him to learn - not just for my own sanity, but also because I'd like him to learn to resolve his own boredom without resorting to me or wanting the TV. I don't mean for hours, but perhaps for 30 minutes at a time seems pretty reasonable. And I want to do this now, when he's still quite young.

Anyone else in this situation? Anyone made this kind of change successfully? Id love to hear some shared experiences.

RueDeDay Tue 17-Jan-17 20:13:32

It's hard. DD is nearly seven and its still a 'savour the moment' feeling when she voluntarily plays by herself. She does best when 'set up' with an activity... Eg I play Shopkins with her for 10 mins, go and do a 'job', come back (before she stops playing, so timeframes needed to be short at first! There was a lot of telling her I would be away for 10 min but actually taking 2!) then praise for playing on her own so nicely... Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.

RatherBeIndoors Tue 17-Jan-17 20:29:22

Thirty minutes might be a bit ambitious to start with maybe that's just us

I find to get DD going I have to a) give her limited options "are you going to do some colouring or some Lego?" b) give a timescale "I am going to clean up / make a phone call for ten minutes and you're going to play. Afterwards we'll do X..." Clearly "ten minutes" can stretch if play's going well, and equally clearly I'm not actually cleaning all the time - I just don't want DD to think I'm doing anything interesting grin

I try and have lots of short periods in the day where I expect DD to find something to do, and in between we do stuff together. She's a similar age to your LO and lately I'm noticing is much more willing to get on with her own stuff - still likes an audience so will dash in and out to show me stuff, but that's fine!

Rumtopf Tue 17-Jan-17 20:30:31

Exactly as Rue said.
Start playing something he finds really engaging, get to a point and then say "ok, I'll be back in a mo I just need the loo and to make a coffee then I'll come straight back", do exactly as you said and then really praise him for continuing to play by himself. If he comes to find you, just ignore and then go and sit back down to play. He'll get it eventually.

AllTheLight Tue 17-Jan-17 20:35:06

I think this is pretty common, sorry. I have known some 4 year olds who would play happily by themselves for 30 minutes, but I'd say that is the exception rather than the norm.

Rachie1986 Tue 17-Jan-17 20:40:15

Following with interest, my DD is just 3 but similar situation (ESP with not enjoying playing!!)

mainlywingingit Tue 17-Jan-17 20:44:11

Since birth I have never interrupted play and my 2 year old can play for nearly 1 hour with me near by but uninterrupted (he's a nightmare getting in car seats by the waywink and nappy changes) but playing alone is something he is good at. I was told early on interrupting any play even with praise can totally interrupt their imagination and train of thought. If they are playing well just leave them be and build it from there.

Believeitornot Tue 17-Jan-17 20:48:12

He's only 4 and sorry but it is boring playing imaginative games alone. You need to play on his terms sometimes - and the more you do it the less he will ask as he gets his fix. I have two dcs and they play together but like me/DH to input as well occasionally.

Rachie1986 Tue 17-Jan-17 21:16:24

I don't think OP or other posters are saying they never play believe, but it's a case (in my situation) of my daughter thinking she needs me to play with her all the time, and often me suggesting what we play - she just stands there helplessly if I ask her to think of something or don't get something out and start doing it with her.

Although due to being under the weather today has been an especially bad day so I'm probably exaggerating it a bit!

Believeitornot Tue 17-Jan-17 21:25:59

I think my point was that the more you do it, the more ideas you give them. Children when playing together give each other ideas on what to do etc. So if you have an only, then you might need to play that role a bit more.

DrDiva Tue 17-Jan-17 21:44:48

I started with a timer. I said he had to amuse himself for 10 mins till the timer went off, then I would play again. The first time he stood in the kitchen door monotonously asking when the timer was going to go off. The second he stropped on the floor for about 8 minutes, then I came back into the room to find him reading to himself. He can now do this for longer.
I also find that if he is doing something on the floor and I do something parallel to him, he will play for ages. So I will get out my craft stuff, he will get out his Lego, and we will interact every so often. It's rather nice when it actually works!
DS is 4.

bummedmummy Sat 21-Jan-17 00:14:28

Thanks for all these interesting posts! I do find it reassuring that I'm not alone in this and that this isn't unusual behaviour. I'm going to try setting the timer and trying to get him to play by himself starting with 2 minutes and working up from there. I take the point that imaginative play alone can be boring but I'm going to try to encourage it a little tiny bit at a time. I've definitely seen that in the rare moments when he IS playing by himself he CAN get very involved in his own play, so I know he's capable of it!

BlueOnMondayNight Wed 25-Jan-17 14:31:43

As an only child myself, I learnt to be capable of doing it (e.g. playing at being a dr 'treating' my teddies, being teacher to my dolls etc), but I hated that neither of my parents 'played' with me. And finally, aged 9 or 10, I begged to be allowed to go do boarding school so that I'd have constant playmates!

Now as the mother of an only child, I see that it's going to be really difficult to encourage DS (now just turned 2) to amuse himself. And I'm interesting to read suggestions.

On the up side, as an adult I am now super sociable, but equally very happy to do things on my own (in a way that I think many others arent) and excellent at occupying myself [where's the emoji for 'smug'??]

BlueOnMondayNight Wed 25-Jan-17 14:31:44

As an only child myself, I learnt to be capable of doing it (e.g. playing at being a dr 'treating' my teddies, being teacher to my dolls etc), but I hated that neither of my parents 'played' with me. And finally, aged 9 or 10, I begged to be allowed to go do boarding school so that I'd have constant playmates!

Now as the mother of an only child, I see that it's going to be really difficult to encourage DS (now just turned 2) to amuse himself. And I'm interesting to read suggestions.

On the up side, as an adult I am now super sociable, but equally very happy to do things on my own (in a way that I think many others arent) and excellent at occupying myself [where's the emoji for 'smug'??]

BlueOnMondayNight Wed 25-Jan-17 14:37:36

* interested to read, even

BlueOnMondayNight Wed 25-Jan-17 14:37:36

* interested to read, even

Starduke Wed 25-Jan-17 14:53:50

Just to reassure you, I have 2 DSes. DS1 (5) has always wanted lots of parental input and playing with. He can now play by himself a bit (duplo and trains mainly) but he is still very demanding.

DS2 (2) has always been happy pottering around by himself - it was a real shock to our systems as we were so used to having to give lots of input to DS1!

So just to say, I think it's more the temperament of the child than the fact of being an only child. DH was an only child and never asked his mum to play with him - he was always perfectly happy by himself.

Stitchosaurus Wed 25-Jan-17 15:02:34

Echoing Starduke here - I have an only and he's great at playing alone. Sorry, not trying to be annoying, just agreeing that I think it's a personality thing, not an only child thing. I'm good on my own too, whereas DH is dreadful!

Again, the suggestions you've had about playing for awhile and then popping off for a bit work here when DS does want company. I play with him and give him my undivided attention until he's happily into his own world and then leave him to it. He's five now and I have noticed he wants a bit more company, probably because he's used to having lots of people to play with at school.

bummedmummy Sat 04-Feb-17 21:50:47

Thanks again for your responses. I've found this really helpful. I have been blaming myself for having a "needy" child. Maybe it was something I didn't do earlier, etc. The Janet Lansbury blog talks a lot about letting kids play by themselves, not doing everything for them and so on. I love her philosophy but despite best attempts I still have a DS who wants company while playing! Hearing from others that this may be at least somewhat personality based has been quite liberating. I've decided not to worry about this for the time being - I'll try to encourage him to play independently when I can but if that doesn't work out it's ok.

libertydoddle Sat 04-Feb-17 22:06:36

My DD is 6 and is much better now at playing by herself. Some things that have helped are:
1) putting craft stuff, interesting books in one area that is hers and we direct her there. I keep the craft stuff well stocked up so she has lots of options. Also a relaxed attitude to paint and glitter on the floor helps as she knows she can just get on with it.
2) lots of dressing up stuff, she'll happily spend half an hour experimenting with different outfits and it puts her into imaginative mode
3) lots of audio books / Disney CDs etc and stereo in her room and the living room that she is allowed to use whenever

I think you also just need to accept that part of the deal with an only is having to do more play. When we visit her cousins I'm always amazed at how I can go for a day with minimal input smile

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