How can I teach my child to entertain himself?

Michele Borba

There really is a new trend with twenty-first century kids. Perhaps because they’re been programmed and scheduled and micromanaged and adult supervised, many seem to have a tough time enjoying their own company and entertaining themselves. Help your kids learn crucial life skills like creative thinking, resourcefulness, and problem solving that you can’t learn when everything is so programmed and supervised. 

Depending on your child’s age and ability, here are tips to get you started.

  • Learn to be alone. The truth is some of our kids actually need to learn how to play alone. So start by thinking of age-appropriate activities that your child could “do alone.” (For a young child: doing a puzzle; for an older kid: learning to play Solitaire).
  • Teach your child the solo activity using the baby step model: First show how to do the game together. Next, watch and guide to ensure he knows the rules. Finally, wean him from you being there until voila! You step back and your child is playing alone.
  • Build it in. The reality is you still have to be the boss of free play. Put up a calendar where you and your kid mark in regularly scheduled summer activities (like days at summer school, camp, sports, or swim lessons). Keep some hours open and point out that those are times when your kid is “free” and on his own. Ideally you want to find the right balance between “free play vs. adult supervised”; “outdoor play vs. indoor play”; “structured activities vs. unstructured.” Only you will know the right balance for your child.
  • Set unplugged rules. Set a specific limit for TV or video game viewing.Keep in mind that the average kid aged 8 to 17 is plugged into some kind of electronic device at least 7½ hours a day. Your first step is to assess just how often your child is “plugged in.” This weekend take a casual assessment (without your kid knowing you’re monitoring). How many minutes is she watching TV or surfing the net or playing video games? Decide a maximum time allotment and then post those rules ASAP so your kid is clear on those expectations.
  • Wean away from you. Of course a toddler can’t occupy his time alone -- nor do you want him to. But you will want to gradually start your child weaning away from needing you 24/7 when you see he or she is ready to learn those independent skills -- certainly by preschool. Think “baby steps”: just wean him a little bit at a time by encouraging him to handle life slowly and confidently without you.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.