Does your child “play” by themselves?
It’s something that many parents struggle with.
“Why are they so clingy?!”
“I’m so fed up! She won’t even play by herself for a few minutes so I can make dinner!”
Montessori spoke of this: “The environment itself will teach the child, if every error he makes is manifest to him, without the intervention of a parent or teacher, who should remain a quiet observer of all that happens.—Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood.
But how does this happen? Not over night, and certainly not if the child has become accustomed to the constant presence and attention of their parent during their every waking hour.
Gradually there must be a trust instilled in the child. Ideally this happens in infancy. Placing the unmoving baby safely on a comfortable movement mat with a mirror and mobile they can be left for a few minutes at a time in a safe room while we busy ourselves in the next room. The time expands as the child gets older until eventually they feel secure exploring in their own room or a child proofed room of the house. Sometimes up to 30 minutes or more.
If this has not been done in infancy, it’s still possible to get there. It just takes a little longer and a little more work. The path to getting there is the same. Start with letting the child be in a room independently working with something. If they are unable to be in the room alone, this stage may require you to sit somewhere near by for the first few times. It helps if you can set these times at the same time every day. Ideally when the house is calm. Perhaps it’s just after lunch. You can talk to the child about what you’re going to do before hand but keep it light and straightforward. For example: “I would like you to play with your toys while I finish cleaning the table.” Or: “I’m going to sit on the couch and watch you use your cars”. It will go more smoothly the more consistent you are. Three times is usually the magic number but it can take longer for your child to gain enough confidence in one stage before moving to a longer time. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a timer so the child knows that when their “alone time” is up. An hourglass works beautifully in this case as well.
No matter the resistance your child puts up, if you gently stand your ground they will eventually come to trust that you will not leave them and that they are a capable person able to do things for them self. And isn’t that what we want for them (and ourselves) anyway?
Working independently: the 5 minute mark
The 10 minute mark