Independence, It Begins

In order to explain some of what I am about to share with you, I need to let you in on a secret part of my personality:

I really enjoy time alone.


That is an understatement.

thrive on time alone.  It is when I am alone that I can slow my super fast-paced brain down and really think.  It is when I am alone that I can truly relax and unwind.

My girls, however, are not like their introverted mother.  At least not at this age.  Both girls love to be around people.  And, of course, since most days the only people around are the three of us, I get a lot of time with them.

I know, I know.  Veteran parents reading this are screaming at their monitors.  “Spend time with your babies while they still want to spend time with you!”

Calm down.  Sit down.  Breathe deeply through your nostrils.

I do.  I spend a lot of time with my baby girls.

But as I journey through stay-at-home-motherhood, I realize that I also need to spend some time during the day in solitude.  Not just for my own sanity, but also to be able to put my best face forward and to be the best (read, most patient) mommy I can be.

Out of this necessity was born independent play time.

This addition to our daily schedule was some thing I’d read about on several blogs.  The original idea comes from the BabyWise series of parenting books by the Ezzos.  Although some of the content in these books has been under some scrutiny lately, I believe a lot of the heart behind the BabyWise books really speaks to me as an introverted stay-at-home-mom.  Essentially, the books help parents to teach their kids to be more and more self-reliant for comfort and amusement as they get older; the book series continues up through the teenage years.

But I digress, it is the independent play time that I want to share today.

Since my girls are playing with each other nearly all of their waking hours, I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy transition getting them to play alone.  What I hadn’t anticipated, though, was that the first morning my husband and I tried this our oldest daughter was more upset than our youngest.

We had explained to the girls earlier in the day that they were going to get some time to play by themselves.  They would each be put in a room with the door shut with some toys (and of course a sippy cup with some water), and they could play however they’d like.  After an agreed upon interval (15 minutes for the first day) we would come back to get them and help them clean up.

That first day we started Clara in the girls bedroom with some board books, some Duplos, and some musical toys.  Upon closing the door we didn’t hear a peep.  Shocking.

We walked across the hall to set Madeline up in the spare bedroom with some Play-Doh, coloring books, and picture books.  As soon as the door shut, she started crying hysterically.  After a few attempts to calmly explain to her that we were just on the other side of the door, my husband and I let her cry for a few minutes until she calmed herself down.  Fortunately, Madeline has always been good with that.

After 15 minutes, my husband and I split up, each of us helping one girl clean up their toys.

Honestly, at the end of that first day, I had felt amazing about independent play time.  If our only hiccup was Madeline getting upset when we closed the door, this was going to go swimmingly.  I had plans to add a few minutes every few days to get maybe a half hour of time to do chores by myself each day.

The days that followed, though, were very different than our first shot at independent play time.  Madeline, despite telling us each time that she would cry as soon as we shut the door, never did.  Instead, she has taken quite a liking to having some time to play with her
“big girl” things that Clara doesn’t play with in the same way.  In the course of just a week, Madeline is able to play well on her own for almost 25 minutes happily.

Clara, on the other hand, was none-too-pleased with the idea of playing alone.  I tried setting her up with toys and leaving quickly.  That sent her into a screaming frenzy.  Then I tried playing with her, then just sitting in the room while she played alone, in hopes of sneaking out slowly.  She caught on every time, and insisted I read a book to her.  After several attempts to get her to actually play alone, we had actual success just one day (after letting her cry for just a couple of minutes).  She was happily playing with blocks when my husband went in to help her clean up.  Today, though, I had a similar experience:  I set Clara up with some toys, snuck out slowly, she cried for just a minute or so, then all was quiet.  I assumed all was well and I could go about folding and putting away laundry in peace.

After 15 minutes was up, I heard no sounds from the girls bedroom but could definitely hear Madeline talking to a baby doll in the spare bedroom.  I knocked on the girls’ room door. No answer.  I opened it up to find Clara asleep, face down on the carpet.

This is really a new journey for me as a mom, and for my girls.  I know by allowing them time to play on their own I am helping to encourage creativity, contentedness, and the ability to focus attention on a task for longer and longer periods of time.  Along the way, though, the girls gain other benefits, like a happier mom who hasn’t gotten overwhelmed with too much time with her babies.

I look forward to working with the girls through this process and helping them to enjoy playing alone and being able to (someday) see the value in it.

Has anyone else tried independent play time, formally or informally, with their preschool aged children?  How did you implement it?  What worked and what didn’t?

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