327: Can I train my child to play independently?

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I recorded this before our current “double pandemic” (of Covid-19, and Fear). But it seems especially relevant now:

Can you, or should you, train your child to play independently?
Do you negatively impact a child by playing with them often?
Do you feel guilty, whether you say “yes, I’ll play,” or “no, not right now”?

One member of our Ninja Parenting Community brought up these, and many other questions regarding independent play (her questions reference an only child… but this applies to all parents.)

Join us today to listen as I share the answers to these questions!
(Click weturnedoutokay.com/327 to view the video and see the notes.)

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Notes on Playing with Your Only Child

1. “Anyone out there an only child who can speak to this kind of thing?”
Neither my husband nor I are onlies, so I can’t speak directly in this way.
But I will say this: whatever a child’s circumstances, we as their parents can make it work.

2. “How do I “train him” to play more independently? Or do I even need to do that? Will he gradually play more independently as he gets older?”
SUCH a great question.
Learning to play independently – without screens, in an open-ended way – is the work of childhood. So, yes, as he gets older he will gradually do this better.
Formal training is unnecessary, and possibly even detrimental.
But, as we get more into a little later in the video, the play he does with you also needs to work for you.

3. “Are my husband and I somehow enabling him by playing with him often?”
You’re not enabling him in any negative way. I view it as the opposite, you give him important tools when you play with him.
But referenced above, it must work for you. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so if you need to be done playing, he will adapt.

4. “Oftentimes he’ll say, “Mama, can you play with me?” and sometimes I say “yes” and sometimes I say “yes but after I do XYZ” and sometimes I say “not right now but later.” Part of me feels guilt putting up boundaries and part of me feels guilty when I don’t.”
Again, a great question and such a classic conundrum for parents.
Shorthand, healthy boundaries are important both for your child, and for you.
Part of our parenting job is to help children understand that sometimes they must bend to the world, and not the other way around.

(Here is the link to the free guide I created on How to Handle Every Temper Tantrum, for when that is especially difficult.)

I think – and I do try to communicate in this video – that feeling guilty as we do this is damaging for everyone. Because when we are not happy, nobody’s happy.
So if you can I would ask that you set aside the guilt, and forgive yourself, and look to healthy self-care to help you feel better.

5. “Anyone else out there have one child questions/scenarios like this one?”
Ninja parents, if you’ve had the experience of raising an only child, or being an only child yourself, please jump into our forums and share.

Hope this is helpful!
Super proud of you as you bring this important issue to light, and work towards a good resolution for you and your family <3