Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 10, 2013.
Recently I read “Why Alone Time Is So Important for Boys and Girls” by Dr. Peggy Drexler on Huff Post Parents, and I couldn’t help but nod my head in agreement. My early life and my life with children have affirmed that alone time is crucial for kids.
My mother was not a parent who overscheduled her children. I went to school, but I participated in few after-school events. I joined Brownies, and since my mom loved dance, she tried to enroll me in a few dance/gymnastics classes (I wasn’t very good since I’m not coordinated), but other than that, she didn’t think it was good for kids to be pressured into doing too much.
My sister and brother are 8 and 11 years older than me, so you might as well call me an only child. I remember spending a lot of time alone, but I was creative. I played make-believe with my stuffed animals and a small collection of Smurfs, and I liked going outside by myself, even in the Colorado snow.
I’m glad that I had those moments alone to grow comfortable with myself. I have met a few people in my life who didn’t seem comfortable being by themselves, and I pitied them. If you can’t enjoy the quiet moments in your life, how can you truly relax, or get creative, or solve problems with confidence?
As a homeschooling mom, I realized early on that if I didn’t encourage some kind of quiet time/alone time for my children, I would lose my sanity. As my eldest boy outgrew naptime at age three, I started “quiet time,” and I gave him the whole upstairs to roam and play. (Putting him in his room felt like I was punishing him, and that’s not what I wanted.)
I don’t know if it was forming this habit or if it just suited his personality, but at almost seven years old, my son is very capable of playing by himself. My three-year-old has also started playing by himself a lot, and I’m delighted. The boys play together very well most of the time, but they also drift apart into their own make-believe worlds too. It’s a good balance.
I can’t take all the credit for their good behavior – they are good boys – but giving them space and time has helped foster their natural tendencies to play creatively, alone and together.
Dr. Drexler wrote in the article, “Modern parents are almost obsessed with filling up their children’s time. There are after-school classes, team sports, camps and lessons. What’s often missing from the schedule is time spent alone.”
She gives an example of a little boy named Sam whose mother reports “that it has become virtually impossible to ask Sam to go play by himself…or even color at the kitchen table while she’s making dinner.” Dr. Drexler comments, “Sam doesn’t know how to play by himself because he’s never had to.”
After reading these examples of kids who can’t play by themselves, I sighed with relief knowing that when I say, “Go play!” it usually works. As a parent, I worry constantly and second-guess my decisions occasionally, but if there’s one thing I’m proud of, it’s that we have a good balance of spending time together, going out to activities, and having unstructured play time – sometimes quiet, sometimes loud, sometimes together and sometimes alone. And if I get some alone time too, that’s an added bonus.
Do your kids play by themselves sometimes?