My 10-year-old daughter is an only child, so her Dad and I have been her most consistent "playmate" and we all enjoy each others' company. Problem: How do I get my daughter to enjoy doing things on her own (play in her room, read a book, ride her bike, etc.) without having someone (her Dad or me) around? I am not trying to get away from her, but trying to get her to be more independent. Any advice?
In the absence of siblings, it is easy for only children to depend on their parents for companionship. Human beings are social creatures, and we thrive on interconnectedness. It is also true that parents with just one child sometimes devote extra time and attention mothering and fathering their youngster. Given how critical it is to healthy development to learn to enjoy one's own company, it is wise of you to take steps to help your daughter learn to play on her own. Here's my advice:
• Ritualize solitary play time.
Establish a routine of daily alone play, starting with just a few minutes and building up to longer periods of time. Many parents find that pre-dinner is a good time for kids to find something to do on their own. Provide your daughter with ideas for activities she can engage in while you and your husband are busy preparing the meal. Knowing that she will be reconnecting with you soon will make it easier for her to spend ten or twenty minutes entertaining herself.
• Allow her to be disappointed.
Parents frequently cave in to requests from their children because they are uncomfortable seeing them unhappy. While it is human nature to want your child to smile, there will inevitably be times in her life when she will have to adapt to things not going her way. Allow your daughter to express her disappointment when you aren't able to go with her on that bike ride, without feeling the need to justify your decision or cheer her up. "You were really hoping I'd go with you, sweetheart. It doesn't seem as much fun when you're riding on your own; I get it."
• Help her create a list of things she likes to do.
Many children love generating lists or mind maps; the process of brainstorming engages their creative minds and as a side note, is a great life skill. "What are some of your favorite things to do?" Make a game of seeing how many ideas each of you can come up with on your own sheets of paper, comparing notes at the end. Or work together to list twenty, thirty or even fifty things she can do on her own for a short period of time. Tack the list to her bedroom door for her to refer to when she announces, "I have no one to play with and nothing to do!"
• Play music in the background while she draws, reads or does a craft activity.
Sometimes, music can make solitary play feel less lonely, providing just enough background stimulation to help a child feel that she's not all alone. She may even find herself singing along!
• Place her in charge of something.
Perhaps your daughter can be the one who waters the roses. Or maybe she can become the family's official dog walker. Children thrive when they take ownership of age-appropriate responsibilities. Giving her something meaningful to do will boost sense of self-worth and help her develop more independence.
• Help her develop talents.
Whether it's piano, tap dancing or jumping rope, look for an activity that requires your daughter to devote time toward improving one of her interests or talents. If she asks you sit beside her as she practices, simply say, "I know you'd like me right there with you, honey, but this is your special time to focus. When you're done, you can tell me what you learned!"
With the presence of digital devices in every corner of our lives, helping kids become comfortable with solitude is important for parents of all children, whether they have siblings or not. By establishing new expectations and routines and being decisive when she claims she can't have any fun without you, your daughter will discover that while she may prefer being joined at the hip with mom and dad, she can also take pleasure in her own company.
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