Playtime is an integral part of childhood, teaching kids how to use their bodies and imaginations, develop social skills and release energy, according to Education Oasis. Some parents might observe that their child prefers to play alone and have concerns that this could be problematic for her development. Although spending time alone is a normal part of childhood, parents can watch for signs that the preference for solitude indicates deeper problems. Be assured, though: Psychology Today states that being alone is not synonymous with being lonely.
Being alone is a learned behavior, according to the Redbook magazine article, “Give Yourself a Break.” Often, babies first experience alone time in a playpen or crib in short increments, learning how to self-soothe and entertain themselves. Infants and toddlers might enjoy alone time in 15-to-20-minute increments, playing with a rattle or other easy-to-grasp toy. Solitary play is a normal part of toddler development before learning to play with others, according to The Creativity Institute. As children get older, they observe their parents spending time alone -- for example, reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee -- and feel comfortable with their own solo play and explorations. Older school-age children might enjoy solitary activities such as reading, solving a puzzle or knitting.
When children are afraid to be alone, it might mean that they are visualizing threats and want the security of parents or friends around, according to O’Grady Psychology Associates. If your child likes to be alone, this could indicate that she feels safe in her environment. Since self-comforting is a learned behavior, children who like to be alone might have developed strategies for dealing with minor fears or concerns (such as waiting and relaxing) that make them feel secure when they’re playing alone.
Encouraging Social Play
Children with some disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, might require encouragement and practice to learn how to play with others. If your child naturally likes to play alone, introduce social play incrementally, according to the Raising Children Network. Simple games, like patty-cake, can introduce basic social interaction. Play dates can help your child establish friendships with others, and you can model how to ask to join in a game.
Parents might feel that they need to constantly be with their child in order to be a good parent, but that just isn’t the case, according to Redbook magazine. Constant engagement can create stress for you and your child. Serious concerns about a child’s level of alone time shouldn’t be ignored, though, and some parents do worry that excessive solitude could signify a deeper problem, according to Parent Map. If your child appears withdrawn, unhappy or aggressive, talk with her teacher to discuss her behavior at school. Socially anxious children might pull away from peer interaction because they’ve had previous negative experiences, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Social problems might suggest that it’s time to contact a doctor or counselor.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Early Childhood Anxious Solitude and Subsequent Peer Relationships
- O'Grady Psychology Associates: Help Your Child Sleep Alone
- Redbook Magazine: Give Yourself a Break: 4 Ways to Teach Your Kids How to Play Alone
- The Creativity Institute: Children and Play
- Parent Map.com: What to Do if Your Child Would Rather Play Alone
- Education Oasis: Good Times At Play
- Lucy Daniels Center: Helping Children Play Alone
- Raising Children Network: Play for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Psychology Today: The Call of Solitude
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