I grew up with three brothers and no sisters. I had my own room and spent a good amount of time in there by myself, playing imaginary games and making crafts. Being an introvert, I liked playing by myself and I had an extensive imagination. Growing up I could never understand why anyone would not want to spend some alone time now and then, because I enjoyed it and had learned to play that way.
As an adult, I still enjoy spending time by myself, but in regards to my own child I feel differently. When I first began to leave Lilly alone to play with her toys or just stare at the light bulb (one of her favorite pastimes), I began to feel guilty. I felt like I should be playing with her and that spending time with her was more important than whatever else I was going off to do around the house. It took me a while to figure out that not only is this O.K., it may actually be beneficial for my child!
Now, I’m not going to downplay the fact that children do need social interaction and the involvement of both parents in their lives. There are too many children around the world that don’t get either of those things for me to come across as saying those things don’t matter.
On the other hand, it is O.K. for you to let your child play by themselves every now and then. This generation is reigned by cellphones, where everyone has instant entertainment in their back pocket. So, when I say, “play by themselves” I don’t mean “play with technology”. I don’t mean it’s beneficial for you to let your child watch TV, play video games, or play on their phone by themselves for hours – far from it. I mean that sometimes it is good for kids to play with minimal stimulation, whether it is from technology, people, noises, toys, etc.
It is from this “alone time” that imagination and creativity are cultivated. It will also give your child peace and security in being alone with their thoughts. We live in a world that is almost too busy to think. Sometimes your child will need to be alone just to process all of the sensory input that they have received throughout the day. If they are an introvert, they will need even more alone time, and they will also need to know that you are O.K. with that, as they may feel self-conscious about it.
I think sometimes as parents we feel that if we are not actively engaged with our kids, then we are taking a break from parenting. On the contrary, if you intentionally leave your child alone to play by themselves, you are simply giving them space to be themselves, to think for themselves, and to create for themselves. This is a more passive than active concept, which is why I think it is difficult for some people (me included) to grasp. But take heart! I believe that giving your child down time to process and regroup on a regular basis is very beneficial.