My 3.5 year old will NOT play by herself - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 09-06-2004, 03:18 PM - Thread Starter
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I have a problem, My 3.5 year old dd will absolutely not play by herself, even for one minute. She is a very bright, imaginative child, but has low persistance and doesn't seem to know how to do any kind of play alone. This is a problem when, say, I have to put the baby down for a nap (too distracting when dd is in the room). I play with her ALL DAY- mostly pretend (pretend kitties, Mary Poppins, Little House on the Prarie, ect). Even when I set her up with paints or clay or something, she wants (needs?) me to be there with her. We do 45 minutes of play then 15 minutes of cleaning the house. (This is not enough, we are not even keeping up with the housework). I alway give her the option of helping or playing by herself and she always chooses to help, which makes the 15 minutes much less productive, although I don't usually mind. My dh says I should just force her to play alone, that he played alone his whole childhood (he was an only child). I don't agree with this, I believe she is innately less able to play by herself. I would like to encourage her to do SOME play alone. It is very draining to play pretend all day long, and soon my little one will want some attention too. Right now I just carry the baby around as I play with the big one. I am a SAHM. We do not watch any TV. She has several fun toys (doll house, jungle gym) that we hoped would spark some alone play. I am amazed that a child with so much imagination cannot for one second play by herself. Any suggestions?

Sarah, unschooling musician mama to Ella (12/24/00) , Aurora (1/31/04) and Hazel (1/30/07) (agenesis of the corpus colosum, large interhemispheric cyst, macrocephaly, shunt). homeschool.gif bfolderchild.gif familybed1.gifguitar.gif
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#2 of 6 Old 09-06-2004, 08:33 PM
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I do not intend for this to sound harsh or disrespectful: it really sounds like you are playing too much with your daughter. You can spend most or all of your time with your children without neglecting everything else and becoming their total entertainment. And she may really go through the roof when baby #2 (and #3, #4, etc. or however many) demands-needs more interaction from you. You could start sending her on "missions" in the next room, so she spends a little more time on her own. (Completely dress and blanket two dolls and then bring them out to play, cleaning or organizing things: wipe doorknobs with damp cloth, make a tent with chairs and a sheet- add some toys then invite you to visit, etc.) Since she's been playing so much pretend with you, you'll need to be gentle about it. Also, you don't always have to give her the option to "help" you. She can play by herself more- she just needs a nudge.
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#3 of 6 Old 09-06-2004, 09:54 PM
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Ds goes through phases where he won't play alone. What has worked for us when I really want or have to do other thing is to set him up doing his own thing and tell him I'll be back when I am done with my project. Maybe if you started with small things, do something, come back and play with her again? I would stop including her in chores, maybe she'll get bored just watching you and go do her own thing? I'm not sure any of that will help, sorry I don't have more ideas!
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#4 of 6 Old 09-06-2004, 10:09 PM
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My ds always had trouble playing by himself, although I don't think he had quite as hard a time as your dd. Has she always been this way or has it gotten worse since the baby?
One thing that always has worked to keep him busy while I did something is/was to give him a job to do and tell him I'll check on it when I'm done doing whatever I'm doing. Like put a bunch of plastic dishes in the sink and tell her to wash them for you, then go put the baby down. Stuff like that. I remember for a year or so there it seemed like all I did was come up w/ "jobs" for him so I could take care of what I needed to do. He's a major extrovert (likely the case w/ your ds) and just really *needs* people around. I'd stop wearing yourself out playing w/ her and agree to a few games, but also have her do her jobs while you do yours more often.
As for getting the baby down for a nap, my ds (who was 3 when his brother was born) had a hard time w/ that also. What I usually did was tell him he could stay in the room w/ us if he was quite and sat or laid in a certain spot until I was done. He got pretty good about it. If he was distracting for the baby I'd make him leave the room. He didn't like it, but he needed to learn that other people have needs also. hth
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#5 of 6 Old 09-06-2004, 11:40 PM
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My older child was a lot like you describe. What worked for us was basically what was already suggested here .... I gave him tasks to complete, and check in with him at the end of each task.

He was very much into "projects" and if I got him started on something he would usually want to finish it even if I stepped away for a few minutes. We found lots of great very simple craft projects for him at the craft store. Things like stringing beads, painting, collage making, etc. Even just practising cutting with safty siscors -- I'd draw wavy lines on peices of paper and ask him to cut on the line...

You get the idea.
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#6 of 6 Old 09-08-2004, 02:22 PM
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My dd is a lot like this too; I think 2boysandadog was right on though in that dd is a major extrovert and really needs somebody, anybody around. It's hard though when you always have to be that person! I always have a playdate (or two) and/or some kind of outing each and every day just to give myself a break. Also, with the arrival of ds AND dd now not needing naps, I've started trying to introduce 'quiet time' (see my recent thread about this). Even though dd won't just go off and play by herself or stay in her room (yet!), she does understand that it's mommy's quiet time too and that I'm not going to play with her.

Just the other day another mom was talking about setting aside 'special times' for everyone. For instance, for x minutes it will be mommy, baby and dd time. Then while baby is sleeping we will have x minutes of mommy and dd time. THen at another time while baby is sleeping it will be just mommy time (and that means doing something all by yourself, with no help from her). It sounds like you sort of do this already, so just expand it a little?

Also, I can usually do some cleaning with dd around, as long as we're in the same room together she'll do fine. Also, I got her a little kid's broom set and that helps a lot; if I need to clean, I do what I need to do and she sweeps until her attention goes off to something else.

~ Meredith, mom to dd(Jan '02), ds1(May '04) and ds2 (June '07) ~ :
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