How much solo play is "normal" for an almost 4 year old? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 17 Old 03-18-2010, 07:30 PM - Thread Starter
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Background: my son will be 4 in May. He is an only child. He was a pretty high needs baby who had painful reflux which made him need to be held upright constantly. We don't have any family nearby, and I was a SAHM for his first 2 years. That + his reflux means that only my husband or I took care of him for the first 18 months. And even after that, babysitting was a rare treat that I swapped with another mom.

He's now a delightful preschooler who is really fun to be around (in my totally unbiased opinion). He goes to a home-based preschool/daycare all day Tuesdays and Thursdays, and goes to a co-op preschool Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I work in his preschool class on Mondays.

He has never, ever been interested/able to play or even really be alone, except when he's pooping or watching a TV show. Not that I'm leaving him alone all the time to watch TV, obviously. But Tu/Thur I leave for work before my husband gets a chance to shower, so he turns on the TV for Kiddo to watch while husband showers. In duress, I can convince Kiddo to play with his cars next to the shower while I shower. He is not interested in showering with us. Our house has 2 levels. Unless he is watching TV he is very unwilling to be alone on either level of the house (that is, if he and I are upstairs and I need to go downstairs to get something and bring it right back, he'll drop whatever he's doing to come with me).

Seriously, pooping or watching TV are the only two things he can think of to do when we're not engaging with him. To the point that occasionally, if I'm on the phone and can't engage with him right then, he'll choose to poop even if he wouldn't otherwise need to go then. (Again, not like I'm sitting around jabbering on the phone constantly. This has happened maybe 4 times in the last year.) We have tried having "everyone do your own thing" time where we set the timer for a short time. When I give him suggestions for things to do he's usually not interested. Or he's interested, but wants us to help/do it with him. But my WOHM-guilt does interfere with that one.

How often is too often to have "everyone do your own thing" time, given that I don't see him until 12:30 Wednesdays and Fridays and not until 5p Tuesdays and Thursdays?

He has several friends at preschool and daycare, but he is willing to play alone there sometimes, even when it's my workday at the preschool. He's happy to separate from me at preschool and willing to at daycare, though not exactly thrilled about it. When we have playdates he's perfectly willing to separate from me, and "do you want to come upstairs and see my room?" is often his first question for his friends.

I know it's uncommon for a kid his age to never play alone, but I don't know if this is more than "uncommon" and into "something to look into." I know that different people have different social needs, etc. But I would like him to have the skills to be alone without thinking "Hm...TV or poop?" :-P
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#2 of 17 Old 03-18-2010, 08:12 PM - Thread Starter
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Well, clearly I should have read the highly similar thread below, first. Going off to read that now.
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#3 of 17 Old 03-18-2010, 08:18 PM
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Mine is the same age and if I'm in the room but not engaging him he'll play with the occasional ""watch me!" or telling me what he's pretending for a while. Or playing with pebbles or dough or water, he'll do that in the room with me for a long time and stay engaged with that. Left on his own, especially when I've been letting him watch TV too much, he tends to want to do more of that rather than come up with something else to do on his own (TV's easy). I think it's just all about what he wants and what really draws him in and prevents boredom. Tactile and messy stuff will keep him busy for like an hour though.
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#4 of 17 Old 03-18-2010, 08:26 PM
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mine`s 4 and plays well by himself (sometimes to the point where i have to say, `kid, can i please play with you.`` :P but i`m with you on the can`t leave alone on one level for a second unless the TV is on thing. idk but mine seems to have grown quite fearful of abrupt noises (even just floorboards creaking etc.) and his own imagined monsters lately so he`s loath to be alone. maybe it`s similar with yours.
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#5 of 17 Old 03-18-2010, 09:48 PM
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DD could play for maybe 60 seconds alone at that age (not including watching dvds).

Now, at five, maybe every 3 days she will play as long as 10 minutes by herself.

Its frustrating
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#6 of 17 Old 03-18-2010, 10:15 PM
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My just turned 4 yo dd will not play independently either. She was also a high needs baby but I think this is more her personality--she just really likes interaction during play. I try and schedule 2 hours for us to play together each day (but on busier days this just doesn't happen or for less time). She's pretty good about letting me do housework--she just flits about the house and sings nearby or something but won't "play." Actually, I don't remember playing independently until age 8 or something myself, so I think that for some children this comes at a later stage. How open are you to getting rid of the TV? We don't have one at all, and I'll say that I have noticed that dd is better able to handle "boredom" than other kids who do watch TV even if she doesn't play during that time--it's like her mind is still able to be content. I don't know if it would help you to get rid of the TV but perhaps it would help open your son up to other options of just "being."

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#7 of 17 Old 03-18-2010, 11:39 PM
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My situation is similar in that my ds (4.5) was a very HN baby who spent 24/7 with me for the first few years of his life (SAHM in a rural area, no sitter). Here's my thing, though -- I think that being able to play by yourself/be happy with no one else around but yourself is a valuable thing, and even a bit of a skill. As such, I think that sometimes children need to be taught how to do it sometimes.

When my ds started dropping naps, I started "Quiet Time". My goal was 30 minutes in your room, by yourself. I don't care what you do, whether you read/draw/play/nap/sing/turn just has to be in your room, by yourself. I did this because I think the kids do better during the day if they have a few minutes to "reset" during the day -- and so do I. -- but also because I wanted them to learn how to simply be by themselves without external entertainment.

It took practice -- I started with ten minutes, and when I started (~age 2.5-3), it took a lot of gentle reminders ("It's quiet time! I'll see you in a few minutes!") as I shepherded children back to their rooms. I made it fun, even, by bringing out rarely used puzzles/library books, etc., for them -- but I was insistent that everyone was going to be in their rooms, doors closed, house quiet and calm. We worked up to 30 minutes, and sometimes we even go to 45, depending on what the kids need these days.

It took awhile, but everyone caught on and now it is a beautiful thing. The kids almost look forward to it, I think, and have even initiated it on their own here and there: "I need quiet time now, Mom. Bye."

I guess my bottom line is that I really think it's a skill that can be developed and for us, it simply took a little practice. There are days where the kids don't feel like having it, for sure, but most days it is just a matter of routine. It took many months to get it down solid, but it was worth it.

I don't know whether this would work for your family, too? - but I thought it worth a mention. HTH.

Mama to A 8/05 and S 11/06
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#8 of 17 Old 03-20-2010, 05:48 PM
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My almost 3 year old is now able to play on her own for 20 mins at a time... occasionally she will occupy herself for even longer, but usually 20 is the max.

What I would do is get her started in a game and then say "I just have to go X", I would leave for a few minutes and come back. Eventually I left her longer and longer, or would just leave and then tell her I wasn't ready to come back. After doing that for a few months she started playing on her own quite a bit. I don't know if it was our "technique" or if it would of happened anyways. I do make sure I spend a lot of time playing with her each day as well, but now if she is happy on her own I don't disturb her.

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#9 of 17 Old 03-20-2010, 11:30 PM
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my dd is four and plays pretty well on her own when she wants to! but i did just go to a "simplicity parenting" lecture by kim john payne (the author of the book). one thing that he said that really stuck out to me was to be more boring than they are. he says that out of boredom always comes amazing and in-depth imaginative play. i have certainly noted this is true with my dd. my dd's teacher also always says that just being with them, even if you are doing things that you need to do, is still time together and that they will learn from you and respect you for it. don't know if that helps, but maybe if you just let your child play alone and not give in to trying to entertain, he'll surprise you and himself!
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#10 of 17 Old 03-21-2010, 12:04 AM
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just because he was HN and you guys stayed in such close contact has nothing to do with him being still so needy.

its personality. i would not worry about it.

i called my dd my 'leech' baby. just like a leech she woudl not let me go. even today at home we rarely are apart. however she has played independently for a while.

i would say keep doing what you are doing because obviously it is helping him.

dd's same age friend who is 7 is still like that and still wont do playdates without his mom. it doesnt bother me. i know one day he will be ok. till that day his mommy will support him in all ways that she can.

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#11 of 17 Old 03-21-2010, 12:21 AM
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my DD is about two weeks older than your DS. i SAHM and have seriously never had a break at all. never had a babysitter. she was a total cling-on kid until our new baby was born in september '09. since then, she has matured a lot. it was out of necessity and a learning curve for us all. she had to grow up a bit in a lot of areas, but has come through with flying colors. for example, my new baby has reflux and was a touchy sleeper. it wore me down to the point that i *needed* the noon hour nap as much as he did and out of necessity i was leaving her in another room with the TV on and her toys for an hour or longer. to my amazement and delight, when i would return she was not mesmerized by the TV but rather was using the TV as background whilest she set up elaborate, imaginative "scenes" and scenarios for her toys and stuffed animals to act out some of what she saw on Diego and some of her own imagination. now it's been several months of this occasional alone time and i can count on her being "good" this way for up to a couple hours!!

don't know if i'd be in your shoes still if we didn't have the second child... which sorta forced us all to change a little.

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#12 of 17 Old 03-21-2010, 02:04 AM
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My oldest was the same. Also that age is when playing with mom and dad is what they want to do more than anything in the world, so it's magnified. I think it waned around 4, 4.5. But he still very demanding of our attention and asks 100,000 questions a day.

My middle is able to play much, much more independently at 3.5 than our oldest.

It's a personality thing.
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#13 of 17 Old 03-21-2010, 11:12 AM
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I do agree that it is a personality thing... however, I also believe you can encourage independent play. Dd, at 3, couldn't spend any time alone. Wanting to encourage some independent play, and, being tired of playing dolls ALL THE TIME, I started by explaining that sometimes mommy had to work and get things done. Then, I'd set her up with some play options and state "I've got do get some work done" and go do the dishes, or, something similar, even when I felt like relaxing on the couch! I think it helped, but, I also think she developed the skill with age. Now, at 6.5, she'll play for long periods of time by herself.

Her 3 yo brother is a different personality. He's been independent since day one. I often have to find him in our house. He's always off playing by himself!
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#14 of 17 Old 03-21-2010, 12:44 PM
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My oldest, at 4, played with his then-1 yr. old brother all the time.
My now-4 yr. old was always independent. At 5 mos. old he'd crawl into the playroom to play, which his older brother had yet to do. When his brother is at school now, he reads, draws, plays with toys, makes himself lunch, uses the computer, etc. He comes to cuddle on my lap every once in a while and goes in daddy's office to say hi, but mostly plays alone from 9am to 4pm on non-preschool days (and from 12-4pm on preschool days).
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#15 of 17 Old 03-22-2010, 04:23 PM
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My four year old is very good at entertaining himself, and my daughter (now 7) is/was too. I really don't "play" as in, with toys or make believe, with them, and never did.

I'm usually willing to play games or do puzzles, but that's something we do more in the evening than during the day. During the day, my son plays by himself, and when my daughter gets home from school, they play together. I work, from home, but even when my son spends mornings at my mom's house, he usually sits and plays with his toys for long stretches.

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#16 of 17 Old 03-22-2010, 04:49 PM
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My almost 4 year old will play by himself for quite awhile. He does ask us and his older brother to play with him at times, but he's pretty content doing his own thing too.

This has only happened in the last 6 months. Before that he was my cling-on baby.
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#17 of 17 Old 03-22-2010, 05:04 PM
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Our 4.5 year old is capable of playing by herself for maybe 15 minutes at a time, tops. But of course that doesn't happen on demand (i.e. I can't just say "go play!" and expect her to do it). ! I guess if she has a really great and complex new toy she could actually become absorbed with it for quite a while, maybe even an hour - obviously that's not common at all.

But I feel for you. Until she was maybe 3, it was 100%, all the time. And we didn't (and still don't) even get downtime when she went to bed, since she has the same sleep schedules as we do. It's exhausting.

We actively worked on her playing by herself but I know that only works as much as the kid is amenable to it.

It's exhausting. But, though I'm no expert, I don't think it's concerning. Definitely worthy of a vent, though.

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