“How do I get my 3.5 year old to play alone? I get so exhausted by the end of the day with playing with her and entertaining her all the time. Her first sibling will make her arrival in October, so she doesn’t have a playmate at home except for me and her dad. What do I do? I have been trying to make her have quiet time / alone time each day, but she just doesn’t get it or know what to do. How do I get her to play alone?” –Shelly
I am definitely not an expert in this area because my own two children are only 18 months apart in age, and thankfully, they are great friends. They play together really well most of the time, so I haven’t had a lot of experience with trying to get them to play alone…my issue is more trying to get them to stop playing together and do something with me!
So, with that being said, here are some things I would suggest trying:
- audio books. If she likes to read, set her up in a comfortable area with some picture books and audio CDs, or even with some audio chapter books, like Magic Tree House or the Mercy Watson series, and let her have some independent reading time. We also like LeapFrog Tag Readers for this purpose.
- sensory bins. Especially ones themed around her interests. If you make it in a small box, then there’s really only room for one person to play.
- getting a baby doll and some baby care items so she can pretend to take care of her new sibling.
- if she doesn’t nap, establish a quiet time in her room during what would be nap time. Be sure she has books, and items for pretend play like a doll house, figurines, dolls, cars, kitchen set, etc.
- if she likes art and can be trusted with some basic supplies, set up a “station” or a box and let her be as creative as she likes with the materials on her own.
- try directly talking to her about how you each need to have a little alone time during the day where you each work/play by yourselves. Perhaps set a timer to signify the start and end of alone time if that helps. Start small if you have to — 5 or 10 minutes even — and work up from there! Maybe you could even do a few shorter sessions of alone time per day to start with rather than one long one. If the child isn’t sure about it, plan to do something with them right after alone time so they have something to look forward to. “Go play with your blocks for 15 minutes and then we’ll go to the park together!”
- you might also try a “workbox” approach — You can google it for more information, but basically you put out several boxes of activities that the child can complete by herself. She can work through them as she wants. Rotate the activities in the boxes daily or at least pretty often so they keep their appeal. It typically is used for older homeschooled children, but I’ve found it helpful to keep my little ones from getting bored; they can just go choose a box and stay busy for awhile independently. Ideas for inclusion might be puzzles, blocks or other building toys, Melissa & Doug educational type activities like the See & Spell or pattern blocks, coloring/activity books, etc.
- include her in what you’re doing. If you’re making dinner, folding clothes, or cleaning, let her help as best she can. Give her small jobs she can do. My kids sometimes help and sometimes realize they’d rather go play by themselves.
- also check out this post I wrote recently, titled 25 Simple Ways to Occupy a Preschooler, for some more ideas.
Another thing that helps me when we’re going through a tough phase with the kids (…and I know this school of thought isn’t for everyone…) is to try to step back and see the big picture a little more clearly. Usually whatever it is really won’t last that long in the grand scheme of things, and I realize that I might even miss it before too long. At least that’s what I tell myself. Like when Lilah comes to my bed in the middle of the night to
slap me in the face and kick me in the back while she tosses and turns and tries to go back to sleep snuggle. Or like today when we were leaving trying to leave from a play date. Instead of politely thanking the hostess for inviting us over and putting on their shoes, both kids started screaming and running around like chickens with their heads chopped off when I said it was time to go. Yeah, one day I’ll look back and miss those moments. Well, maybe…just maybe… 😉
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