How to keep an only child entertained
So who else has one child and gets told by everyone from their hairdresser to the lady at the checkout in the grocery store that you need to have a second so the kids have someone to play with?
Ha, I see your raised hands!
The fact that it’s always something with people when it comes to women and their reproductive decisions aside, I do see the point that only kids almost always need a parent to be a playmate.
Only kids are great in so many ways. They are often well-behaved, like little adults because that’s whom they come into contact with most. We push them harder because they’re the only ones. We heap the praise and naturally give them access to tons of one-on-one time. Obviously, all of this is excellent for development. The downside is they’re often spoiled little shits who don’t know how to share necessarily, or what to do with themselves unless they’ve got mommy/daddy on tap (preferably both)!
How do you keep the onlies entertained then? Here are four ways to think about it.
Play near, not with her.
This is a bit of wisdom I acquired a couple of years ago. Not sure I remember exactly how. The idea is that if your child isn’t good at playing alone, don’t force her. Don’t make it pressure she doesn’t need that will probably be seen as punishment, which isn’t going to get you to the goal. Instead, stay with her. But don’t play with her every second. Sure, pitch in when she comes to you and wants something (which is probably going to be once every few seconds at first). But keep encouraging problem-solving. Read a book or something while you’re in the space so you’re actually doing something else. Soon she’ll get the point. Mommy’s around when I need her, but she’s not going to build these train tracks physically with me every time. It helps her get to that realization and helps me hang with my phone, be a moderately shitty parent, and call it teaching life skills! What’s not to like?!
Start leaving him alone as much as you can.
‘Tell me how and I’m all over the idea,’ is probably your response to that! This is the next step to the point I make above. And it’s much, much harder. Start with a few minutes. Age helps with this. You might not have a lot of success with a 2-year-old, but 3 and 4-year-olds should be ok with you saying ‘Daddy’s going to be right’ back when they are engrossed. Keep your word, though. At first, he will probably follow you to wherever you’re going. But still keep your word and return to the original spot. Pretty soon you’ll get to a point where he will do small intervals of time without you. Really resist the urge to interfere when he is doing something by himself. (I know I don’t have to tell you twice since free moments come so rarely.) Don’t hover. Squelch the inclination to nit-pick and craft the little perfectionist. And lastly, praise for alone time. Kids in the 5-and-under stage of life love that shit!
Spend some time teaching her activities that work well for onlies.
Pretend play and art are your best friends. Both are super alone-friendly. Think open-ended and something that doesn’t require following instructions. Often I think getting kids interested in something at this age is about you doing it with them at first and playing up how cool something is. It doesn’t always work immediately so don’t force her. Move on to something else and see if that sticks. Model what you’d like her to do. And refer point 2. Leave her for short periods of time, always coming back. If you’re lucky, before long you’ll have a few engrossed windows in your day, however tiny.
Give him company his age.
While creating a self-sufficient only-child is the dream, remember nobody is an island. Social skills, team spirit and a love for people are things every child should learn. Schedule group activities like a sport that is age appropriate. Set up play dates, ideally, with other only kids so they understand one another’s space. Build a network of kids that you can hang with when time allows; your little will appreciate it. As with everything else, there will be tantrums when leaving and questions about why it isn’t every day. But it’ll settle it. As new immigrants in a country, we always say friends are the new family. We have access to our families for a few months a year at best, so it’s friends who’ve got our backs. Our children will find that too!