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mmmama
mmmama asks:
Q:

Why Can't My Five Year Old Play Alone??

For over a year now, my five year old son has been extremely co-dependent. He will not play alone, and when we insist on it, he mopes and then will find an excuse to come back down stairs and follow his dad and I around. Even when he is in his room playing, he will only play for 5-10 minutes, and is constantly talking to us via shouting from his room. It's like he cannot be alone, and constantly has to have a companion or an audience.
It's becoming very stressful for all of us. I literally cannot play with him constantly, but it breaks my heart to tell him no, because I'm afraid he will feel I am rejecting him. We have tried explaining that we can't play constantly and it does no good. We have set aside specific time for each of us to spend with him and it does no good. His room is filled with books, paints and a chalk board, puzzles, a drum set, toys, and still nothing interests him unless we are playing with him. It is really worrying me, because this is not what I want for my son. I want him to be strong and independent and self-sufficient. I don't want him to grow up with that empty feeling of needing to be constantly entertained to be happy. I don't know how to handle the situation, because I am so afraid of hurting his feelings. Help!
In Topics: Self esteem and identity, Discipline and behavior challenges
> 60 days ago

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Expert

Hand in Hand
Jun 15, 2009
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What the Expert Says:

Your son is very lucky to have such a caring and thoughtful parent. And good for you for reaching out for ideas in this challenging situation.

As you've clearly noticed, children thrive on connection with their parents. In fact, most young children would like nothing better than to play and relax with you twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Unfortunately, the rest of life gets in the way!

A child's need for a sense of connection is strong and constant through childhood. It is this sense of safety and connection that allows children to learn at a great rate, to experiment and play so fully, to enjoy themselves and others without reservation, and to trust in the goodness of the people they know.

A child's sense of connection and safety is easily broken. With infants and young children, a parent turning away to wash his hands or do the dishes is sometimes enough to break a child's sense that all is well. Because of this fragility, sooner or later, every child experiences some sad feelings about not getting the focused attention they crave.

When a child feels unable to play on his own or to separate by spending time in his own space, this small hint of separation may be kicking up stored feelings. Putting a child to bed, going to another room, talking on the phone, or being rushed and overworked can open the floodgates to anxiety or grief that comes from earlier, more difficult separations.

The first thing you can do to help your son gain confidence and venture out on his own happily, is to do something we call "Special Time." I know you are setting aside time for each of you to play with him, and I think that's wonderful, but as an experiment, try it with these rules:

* Announce ahead of time when Special Time will be so that your son has a chance to anticipate the time together.

* Set a timer so that Special Time has a clear, obvious beginning and ending.

* Once Special Time begins, turn on all your warmth and attention and follow your son's lead in play. He's in charge. He gets to decide what to do and you are ready and willing to do it. Be as loving, affectionate and playful as possible. Give your son the more powerful position. He gets to win, he gets to lead, he gets to laugh.

* Prevent any interruptions. Let the phone go to voicemail and the neighbor at the door wait for the timer to ring. Make this time with your child the top priority of the moment. He will learn to count on your attention during this time and will relax into the play with you in a new way.

* When Special Time is over, let your son know how much you enjoyed playing with him and when he can have Special Time again.

This may bring up feelings that underly his restlessness when it's time for him to play on his own. If so, that's wonderful! Children need to fully feel about a separation that is about to happen, or has already happened. While they cry, crumple, rant or tantrum they need the love and caring of someone who offers them warmth and safety. Children whose feelings are listened to become more confident, feel closer to their parents, and feel closer to the people who listened while they cried. They also feel more ready to relax and enjoy time to themselves.

There are several good resources on our website and our blog that can help you explore these ideas further.

Thanks for asking,

Julianne Idleman
Hand in Hand Program Director
www.handinhandparenting.org
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Louiseasl
Jun 19, 2009
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Best Answer!

what's this?
from a fellow member
Your child is at an age where he is undergoing a lot of maturational changes.  Once he becomes involved in school and school friends you will see this need for constant attention reduce (hopefully).  Right now try and set up activities that will be of high interest to him and that he can proceed on his own.  I highly recommend easy hands on activities such as building blocks with cars or trains.  Also, as silly as this sounds a big box ( like one the size of computer paper reems), crayons, child-safe glue sticks and stickers can provide much entertainment.  Kids love simplistic items that can use their imagination. Try and place these fun activities where he can see you, such as a play room or kitchen.   Good luck.

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Additional Answers (3)

bob
bob , Parent writes:
Several things come to mind when I picture your situation, the first of which a few people said to me and my wife just before our first son was born: Your life will never be the same.  On a less glib note, here are other things you may or may not have thought of:

1. The opposite situation is worse (but balance is best).

2. He could use a friend and have play dates.  A lot of kids, once they establish peer friendships, lose interest in hanging out with Mom and Dad.  Playing alone doesn't seem like a natural state for a child.

3. Maybe he has the wrong kinds of toys.  I met a man two days ago who gave his son a drill press for his 10th birthday.  Now, I'm not saying go buy your 5-year-old a power tool, but maybe he needs something that is more like Mom and Dad might have and use.  Some kids take very well to tools.

4. Maybe he needs to rip something apart.  Most boys and a lot of girls like deconstructing things.  In my family, it was worn-out computer disk drives.  It was old televisions when I was a kid.  A screwdriver and wire snips can be very engaging.  You must have some old thing around the house he can take apart.

5. Perhaps engaging another sense will help.  Music in his room (and only in his room) or mild incense or scented oil.  For a while, lighting a scented candle near my daughter sitting at the kitchen table had a calming and focusing effect on her.

6. This one is a little "out there" but try teaching him basic meditation.  There are bound to be several websites that can help with this.  I only bring it up because I've used a similar technique on some children to calm them down and given them a sense of balance.  I don't call it meditation, but I have them stand perfectly still, not the slightest movement, for a short period of time.  It does seem to quiet them a bit.
> 60 days ago

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dgraab
dgraab , Parent writes:
Hi, If you decide to follow the advice for Special Time and doing hands-on activities with your son, I want to let you know about an exciting event that Education.com is hosting this summer...

The 2009 Summer Activities Challenge

Through the Challenge, U.S.-based families can do fun activities to extend learning over the summer (and avoid summer slide), for a chance to win a Dell laptop or one of 100 Lego sets! You can learn more about the challenge here: http://bit.ly/18xMq5

And here is a catalog of potential activities you could explore with your son:  http://www.education.com/activity/all-grades/

Enjoy and good luck!
> 60 days ago

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cnsrpblcnmom
cnsrpblcnmom writes:
My 6 year old daughter does the same thing. She would rather lay around and do nothing if we are not playing with her. As soon as I offer to play a game or something she perks right up. She will go from laying around on the floor to dancing in a second. My husband says it's fine and no big deal. I am like you and feel she has to be constantly entertained to be happy and that can't be good in the long run. We have a pretty big house all kinds of activities for her to do. I would have loved it when I was her age.
I am not sure what to do about this either. We have tried all different options for her up to this point.
> 60 days ago

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