On Raising Independent Kids

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Sometimes I write parenting essays here because I feel really convicted about something, or I feel like we’ve figured something out within our family and I want to share what works for us. This… ain’t one of those times. My thoughts on raising independent kids are anything but clear, and honestly, I’m probably looking for a good conversation about it more than anything else.

On raising independent kids

Photo by Mary Costa Photography

I remember bringing Henry home, and all through his first baby months, taking such care to fill him with all of the ideals that we always had in our heads. Teach our kids to be kind, make them smart, help them care about people, encourage them to be curious, make them joyful, teach them to love music and art, and on and on. I never really thought about helping them to be independent. Not in any specific ways, I mean. We would encourage little Hank to play with friends, to try things without us, to play by himself for a while. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t. I didn’t think too much about it.

Fast forward to our three-and-a-half boy. He’s been in school for two years. He gets dropped off with no tears and with excitement to see his teachers. He looks forward to playdates with friends. He wants to perform daily tasks by himself with no help (sometimes). But still to this day, his favorite playmates are mom and dad. And I think that’s probably pretty normal. Except I often hear his little friends’ parents say things like, “Yeah, she’ll play by herself for an hour or two at home.” And my jaw drops! I cannot imagine a world where Henry plays by himself for that long. And guys. It. Gets. Exhausting. I love that he loves to play with us, but it leaves little to no time to get the day-to-day stuff done that needs to get done in a house (let alone get work done). And sometimes I wonder if we went wrong somewhere way back when he was a little guy, by constantly entertaining him.

Now Maggie’s in the picture, and naturally that poor second child gets ignored now and again, and I think that she’s a little more independent because of it. But honestly, even if we had the time to think about teaching Maggie how to be more independent at home, I wouldn’t even know how or where to start. So I guess my question is this: If you have kids, do they play well by themselves? And if they do, how did you do that?! Teach me the ways, guys. Because I love Legos and everything but sometimes you just have to set the Legos down and do the dishes. 😉 xoxo

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  2. It’s not just you!! I’m in the same boat. We (me especially) are his favorite people and play things. I often wonder is it because we always spent time playing with him when we were home with him because he was at school so much of the time (two full time working parents) we wanted to interact with him? Or maybe that’s just who he is. He is not the kid that will play by himself for an extended period of time. He will be 5 this summer and for the past 6 months we have been stressing independent time. However I’ve been noticing even if I’m not interacting with him, his play still revolves around the space I’m in. Just like you we have no issues with separation, just with always wanting to hang out with us when we are home. Sometimes I think this is such a short period of time and soon he will not want to han with me. Then I think, but I need some “alone” time and those piles in every corner of my house need to be addressed. I have no suggestions. Just commiseration. We also went through a 4-5 month period of “where you go I go Mom” earlier this year. Everywhere in the house I went he would come. Everywhere. And he would then tell me innhis sweet voice with his big eyes “where you go I go!” Deep breaths.

    1. Haha! I love that you describe yourself as his “play things” because YES. You get it. And omg the “where you go i go” thing! Those are the types of little kid idioms that just kill me because they’re SO SWEET but so exhausting. 😉

  3. While I don’t have kids, my parents made it very clear that some days I had to play by myself. I would ask to do something and my mom would say no, today you have to play by yourself and she would start by setting a timer to like 30 mins and I would just be in my room doing my own thing. Each time the timer would increase in amount of time and after a while I would just figure it out. I think it made me rely on them less and figure out that I could do things on my own. It was really important to them for me to be independent as I was a girl raised in a foreign country and I honestly think it’s a big reason I became as independent as I am today.

    1. Yes, exactly this! I think we need to start implementing something like this in little increments, and probably it will throw him for a loop at first but hopefully we’ll get over that initial hump and he’ll benefit from it. Thanks girl!

  4. I think it has a lot to do with personality. Some kids are just naturally more introverted/extroverted. With my toddler, I’ll do “parallel play”. So I’ll start off playing with him, then I’ll give him an independent activity (like building blocks) and I’ll stay sitting by him and I’ll read on my phone. Sometimes, I’ll let him color while I write to do or shopping lists or update my calendar. I started off with short bouts, but as he was able to entertain himself longer, I stretched the time. Little by little, he was able to have longer intervals of alone play time. You could try this, however, start very small and extend the times slowly. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work. Oh! And it helps if he has background music. So I’ll play kid playlists on Spotify and it helps because he’s not alone in silence

    1. Just to clarify, I started next to him, then across the room (usually putting away laundry) and eventually I could leave him in his room and watch him on the baby monitor. Good luck!

      1. Yes, this totally makes sense. And thank you for your comment! I think this is probably something that would be right up our alley. We’ll give it a try!

  5. In raising my two children I found myself asking the same question! Am I spoiling them with too much attention? Why don’t they play by themselves? I never figured it out.

    However……..the time came when each PREFERRED that I not interfere w her own independence. That came as a shock lol! And I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. Today each is a lovely, loving, kind, smart, intelligent, strong, creative lady, and I am proud. It turned out just fine. 😀

  6. Hello! I hope my comment will help, from a kid’s point of view.

    I was a very dependent child too. But what helped me play on my own was I found my hobbies. For example, at a park, I would swing or slide on my own. In another case, I would love to draw on my own. Some require buddy system, like having your children play together. You have to try several activities and see how it goes!