when those activities dominate a child’s day, they don’t
get ample opportunity to unwind. A child’s reaction to
overstimulation varies depending on their personality,
but typical signs that your kiddo might need some down
time include crankiness, irritability and not getting along
Teresa Bondora, an educator and mother of two children,
believes in respecting our children’s changing needs for
social and solitary time. She says you may be surprised at
how much time alone they choose on their own.
“In my opinion, time alone or (time) spent recreationally
is just as personal and timely as hunger. And dictating
(their time) is disrespectful and teaches children to
ignore their own body speaking to them. If we ask and
respect this need, then we teach them to respect it for
themselves and listen to it,” Bondora says.
Schedule daily quiet time. Carve out quiet time in the
day, if your child isn’t used to initiating it on his own.
Daily quiet time allows kids to relax, listen to music, read
or simply daydream. However, your child’s needs may
vary. While all children need down time, not every child
must be alone to recharge.
“Some children who really like to be with others might
like it best if they are lying on the couch reading a book
while mom reads her book right next to them. Other
children might really want to be off alone,” Dunnewold
Babies as young as two months old can play on their own
for a little while.
“Have (your) baby play in five to 10 minute increments
on a blanket on the floor. Babies of this age can amuse
themselves by looking at pictures in board books or at
mirrors or lights,” Dunnewold says.
Alternate between playing with your baby for five
minutes and giving her five minutes to play on her own.
Slowly increase the amount of time.
With an older child, set a timer and encourage them to
play alone for 10 minutes. When the time is up, play for
10 minutes with your child and then set the timer again
for 10 minutes of solitary play. If your preschooler no
longer naps, set aside an hour a day for your child to play
quietly, look at books and relax.
as the designated entertainer. Self-directed play leads to
more imaginative play.
If your child isn’t used to playing alone, suggest activities
that they can do on their own. List activities on a chart or
have them pick an idea out of a jar. Afterward, reward
them with a sticker or extra time with you and use
positive reinforcement. For example:
“Didn’t you have fun?! What a big girl!”
Create an “imagination bucket” for your child’s quiet
time and change out the contents from time to time to
keep it interesting. Depending on the age of your child,
include popsicle sticks, crayons, glue, beads, pipe cleaners
or stickers. Let them go to town creating, coloring or
designing. Building blocks are another excellent choice
that encourage children to practice fine motor skills
while using their imaginations.
Model time alone. Constantly playing the role of
entertainer or running from one activity to the next
is exhausting and stressful. Set an example for your
children about how to best manage stress by modeling
quiet time on your own, whether it’s through reading,
journaling or simply resting.
Ester Buchholz, a psychologist and author of the book
The Call of Solitude, says that time alone is needed more
than ever in our lives.
“Being alone gives us the power to regulate and adjust
our lives,” she writes. “It can teach us fortitude and
the ability to satisfy our own needs. It brings forth our
longing to explore, our curiosity about the unknown, our
will to be an individual…. Alone time is fuel for life.”
Bondora says time alone helps her children tune in more
to their feelings and better understand why they feel a
certain way. They can also better vocalize their needs.
“They take care of themselves and judge when they need
to be alone or when they need to have some loud fun!”
From enhanced introspection and creativity to valuable
life skills, a restful respite in the middle of a busy day
will support your child’s physical, mental and emotional
health today and into the future. And, as a hardworking
parent, you’ll reap the benefits, too!
Encourage self-directed play. Even if your youngster
complains about how bored they are, avoid jumping in
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