It always started with an explosion of whining before dinner time each night. As a parent I want to raise independent children, but I found myself in rut with a child who whined over seemingly everything.
I would stand at the stove cooking potatoes, vegetables or what not, and the incessant cries from underfoot gnawed at my ears.
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My son clung to my leg saying, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.” This was after we spent over an hour playing together. I filled his connection tank as much as I possibly could. He didn’t want to help cook. He was rested and fed. And yet, he still couldn’t muster enough focus and independence to entertain himself while I cooked.
I kept trying to think when this new found whining started because it did not always used to be like this.
Temper tantrums here and there, absolutely.
But incessant whining and refusing to play alone for a bit, not usually.
I realized when the shift occurred.
Before he started preschool, my son would play alone in his room for about an hour each day. This is something we did from a very early age to both build independence and keep our family sane.
In the beginning, people thought I was crazy that I would allow him to play alone for 40-60 minutes a day. I would get comments like, “You mean he’s just alone? In there? By himself?”
Um. Yep. Just a boy and his toys.
I know this is earth-shattering to think that kids can and should play alone without constant supervision, so before anyone panics, please know that the room was safe for him to be alone. And it was for an appropriate amount of time, not an all-day affair. Neglect and independence are two totally different things. It was just a part of his routine; he would see it on his printable daily schedule for kids and run into his room to play.
But here’s the mistake.
Once my son got older, I started working more hours, we put him in childcare, and the “alone time” in his room stopped. Life got busy and chaotic, and we started to fall deep into the whole checklisted parenting trap.
The checklisted parenting trap causes parents to believe that kids need to attend gymnastics, soccer, the spelling bee, piano, summer camps, and lest us not forget, the gifted and talented program at school. Unfortunately, the real world is not a constant party of hourly activities, crafts, lessons and camps.
The key to raising independent kids.
Kids know how to go to gymnastics practice and do the perfect summersault, but they often become lost with the basic concept of entertaining themselves without flashy toys, electronics or an external presence, such as a parent, sibling or caregiver.
There are countless ways to raise independent kids, but one simple change can help cut down on incessant whining and build life skills like independence, problem solving, and focusing: alone time.
It’s a super simple practice that kids learn quickly once given the opportunity. Here’s the real beauty:
Studies show that people–kids and adults alike–who are capable of filling their alone time feel less isolated and lonely and more creative and content with life.
There is also research to show that kids who learn self-control are less likely to experience anxiety and depression in adulthood. Learning to play alone and solve problems without outside help is a huge function of focus and self-control.
During “alone time,” it takes an immense amount of self-control for kids to…
- Troubleshoot toys without asking for an adult to fix it.
- Stay in a room for a certain amount of time.
- Entertain themselves using basic, non-electronic toys, such as blocks, cars, dolls, trains or dress up.
- Entertain themselves without another person present.
- Focus on a given set of toys for a given time without fleeting to the next toy or activity.
Here’s an easy guide.
I once read a quote that said, “Never do for a child what he can do for himself.” It’s hard to watch our kids struggle, sit patiently, wait, and allow them to reach the conclusion without fixing it for them.
But the hardest parenting choices are often the best ones.
Tired of the whining, I started putting him in his room to play alone after he came home each day. This was not a punishment. This was a privilege for him to recharge and enjoy his toys, thoughts, and creativity without anyone bossing him around or interfering.
If you have an older child, this is usually pretty easy to implement. For younger kids, it takes consistency and practice over a few weeks time, but they will start to adjust.
How to give kids “alone time”
- Create a safe space.
- Set the timer (if you’re just starting, you can begin with 5-15 minutes and work your way up to the desired amount, with 60 minutes as the max).
- Explain that this is their time to play alone. It might go something like this: “Pick out some toys from the closet that you want to play with. You get to be the boss of the toys and make all the decisions. I will come back right away when the timer goes off.”
- Get them when the timer goes off.
Give your child some alone time and see how it goes. You may find this one simple change improves behavior and whining. On top of alone time several times per week, you can also nurture independence in other ways (source)…
Children ages 2 to 3 should be able to…
- Help put the toys away
- Dress him or herself (with some help)
- Put clothes in the hamper after undressing
- Bring her plate to the sink after meals
- Help with table setting
- Brush his teeth and wash face with some assistance
Children ages 4 to 5 should be able to…
- Know her full name, address and phone number
- Know how to make an emergency call
- Perform simple cleaning chores such as dusting or clearing the table
- Feed pets
- Understand a basic concept of how money is used
- Brush teeth, comb hair, and wash face without help
- Help with basic laundry
- Choose her clothes and dress herself
Children ages 6 to 7 should be able to…
- Mix, stir and cut with a dull knife
- Make a simple meal, like a sandwich
- Help put groceries away
- Wash dishes
- Straighten up the bathroom after using it
- Make his or her bed without help
- Bathe without help
When you are struggling with alone time for yourself and your kids always seem like they are clinging to your leg even when you’ve filled their connection tank, go ahead and give them some alone time as a treat, not a punishment.
No really. Put them in their rooms. Close the door. Breathe, mama. You are doing good. So good.
Print this free printable!
This post comes with a free printable to give you an easy step-by-step guide to raise independent kids. Plus, remember what independent skills are age-appropriate for your kids!
Here’s a sneak preview:
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- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly parenting newsletter! Just Click Here to Subscribe
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Use it as a quick reference to keep parenting simple!
Want more on parenting?
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- 4 Important Words to Help End Power Struggles
- What No One Tells You About Parenting Toddler Boys
- 7 Things Resilient Mothers Do Differently
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