Each day we are bombarded with an overflow of ideas of what parents should be doing with their children. Sometimes it feels like part of a mom’s job is to always find things for them to do at any given minute. Guess what? It isn’t. Take a step back! You are not a birthday party princess sent to play games and make crafts with your little angels all day long.
In fact, if you find yourself working to entertain your children every moment of the day, you are not giving them the opportunity to figure out how to entertain themselves. Studies have shown that children who are allowed more freedom to figure out how to amuse themselves are better problem solvers and are better at working independently as they grow older.
Try this: Choose a time of day for independent play. The length of time will depend on the age of your child. Generally the older they are, the longer they will be able to amuse themselves. For younger children, set out only a few toys that allow for creative play. Generally, toys that make them do all the work are best, such as building blocks or sorting toys. For older children, it might be enough to challenge them to come up with a new game and then tell you about it at the end of playtime.
Then, step back. Find something else to do. For children who aren’t in danger of hurting themselves or choking, leave the room. The further you are from the play, the more they will understand that it’s up to them to figure it out. If they come to you looking for ideas, remind them that this time is for them to come up with a way to play all on their own.
When the time is done, give heaps and heaps of praise for any small accomplishment. Be specific and praise the things they did well and ignore anything that they struggled with. The more consistent you are, the more able and willing they will be to enjoy this unstructured playing time.
Storytime: My kids always struggled with entertaining themselves when they were younger. I didn’t understand that for some kids learning to play doesn’t come naturally and sometimes you have to teach them how by letting them struggle a bit. Part of me wishes I could go back and be more proactive in letting them learn how to entertain themselves in ways that don’t include a screen. That said, even with all my shortcomings, my kids will surprise me and come up with random games to play with each other that I could never imagine.