As parents, we know how important Alone Time is—a minute to ourselves feels priceless, especially in the early years. Enjoying an activity of our choosing can recharge us almost instantly. Our kids naturally yearn for alone time, too, but may need a bit of guidance from us as parents to value it.
A family is made up of individuals—no two family members are going to like all the same ‘stuff.’ Alone Time acknowledges that and creates space for each person to explore what he or she likes, something that fills them up. Space away from others (including siblings) to just be themselves, decompress, and explore their own interests can go a long way to bring calm to the home and encourage independent play in children. Here are five tips to enrich and encourage Alone Time for kids:
1. Let them suggest a new hobby through an online search.
Sit down with your child and search for hobbies with them online. (We love Pinterest!) Do a search for kid crafts and hobbies. Let them tell you which ones look and sound appealing to them. What looks good… Origami? Watercolor? Vision boards? Designing their own washi tape?
When you look up “top 5 books for 7 year olds,” what pops up? Which titles and descriptions appeal to them? Let them take the lead. They might be more inclined to pursue something that is their idea. Bonus: the act of searching together provides some one on one time with you AND an opportunity to practice safe online searches.
2. Offer them “new” supplies for a current interest.
This could mean buying new supplies or organizing ones you already own. Does your child like to read? Buy them a new book or take them to the library to choose one. Do they like to color or draw? Set up crayons or colored pencils in an easy to reach jar or organize their art supply space to make it more visually appealing. Print out new coloring sheets. Do a coloring book or book swap with friends. The goal is to ignite excitement for a solo activity they already enjoy. It doesn’t have to cost money.
3. Set up a cozy zone.
Place a snuggly blanket and pillows on the couch, in a chair in the corner of the living room, in the odd nook, or in your child’s bedroom. Make it inviting and practical with fuzzy blankets and pillows. Let your whole family in on what the cozy zone is – “if you see someone sitting in the cozy zone curled up with a book, that means they need some time to themselves and we’re going to respect that by not interrupting them.” Place a book there, maybe a cute ‘do not disturb’ sign. Go there yourself and sit down with a book. Model the behavior you want to see.
4. Allow them uninterrupted time.
If we want children to play on their own, we have to allow time for them to be alone. Before we call out their name to help with our family’s mile long to-do list, check in and see if your child is engrossed in a book, coloring, building project, etc. Pause before pulling them out of an activity and evaluate whether you really need them in that moment.
They might be in the middle of some much needed decompression time, and in today’s busy world, everyone needs time to de-stress. Sometimes it just feels good to do something you love without interruption. Help hold that space for them by keeping interruptions from you (and siblings) at a minimum. I’m not saying don’t ask them to help, just encouraging you to keep alone time on your radar before/when you are asking.
5. Model alone time.
Modeling is one of the most powerful tools we use as parents. We do it all day long with every move we make and each word we say, so model Alone Time! Take time for you to decompress and recharge. Do something you love. Let your children in on what you’re doing—tell them you are taking Alone Time. Use the words “Alone Time” and teach them about interrupting so they know what you mean. Being clear about what you are doing will help them see the benefit of it and, over time, they can learn to appreciate it and ask for it in a healthy way, too. Model what you want to see—teach them to ask for it rather than wait until it’s too late and scream for it.
The goal is to make time for what is important. Quality Alone Time won’t happen overnight, it takes consistency and practice. Kids don’t magically know how to do things just because we ask, so we help them understand. Alone Time isn’t any different. If it’s a family habit that feels important to you and your kids, then make it a priority: model it, make time for it, encourage it, support it.