Independent Play and the benefits of alone time.
Hands up if you are one of those people who like time alone. I do. I am not overly social and I do like being by myself. Sometimes plotting around the garden, or drawing, sometimes I even enjoy cleaning if I am alone. I notice this trait in my children too. Being alone, or ‘independent play’ in childhood, provides time out from the busy and overwhelming world. For children though, why is Independent play important? Playing alone is good for children and something that should be encouraged, it has many long term benefits.
Recently we went for a trip to a caravan park, it had a great vibe and was full of social families who were keen to sit around fire pits chatting for hours. The kids seemed to gravitate towards each other and become friends instantly. Dimples made a few “best friends” and they rode bikes, scooters, built sand castles, talked on walkie-talkies and played tip all day long.
When we go on trips like this I notice that as soon as we get home both Dimples and Miss T disappear into their rooms for a couple hours. After a very social few days they need time to themselves. They happily sit in their rooms chatting to them self, playing independently. I leave them for as long as they are happy to do so, because this alone time is important for their development.
The Benefits of alone time and why independent play is so important to a child’s development?
1. Emotional regulation.
Time alone allows children down time, or time out, to relax their mind. The ability to regulate emotions improves during this time; when a child is overwhelmed or over-stimulated from too many people or toys or sounds, they can’t regulate their emotions and they become highly reactive. Have you noticed that tantrums and meltdown occur most often when a child is overwhelmed, over stimulated or tired? Alone time and independent play counteracts this and is beneficial for a child developing coping skills. Having time to yourself, provides time to re-centre and encourages self-care. This is the same for adults too.
2. Social independence.
Being able to play alone and do things by yourself in social situations is an important skills to learn. I used to struggle with this… When I saw Dimples playing alone I wanted to run straight over to make sure he wasn’t feeling left out! Now that Miss T is 3 I’ve noticed she does the same, even though she is a social butterfly, there are times where she likes to wonder off and pick flowers and talk to butterflies. I have accepted it as a good trait and nothing to worry about.
It is important for children to have the ability to do their own thing in social situations because it develops social confidence and is something that they will experience at one time or another, no matter how social and friendly they are. For instance, if other kids don’t want to play the same game or do the same thing as Dimples, he was happy and determined to do it alone, regardless of his peers.
3. Self Confidence.
Independent play and being alone develops self confidence in children by allowing them freedom. Freedom to test hypothesis, try new things and take healthy risks. They create ideas, learn about them self and what they like, build on developing skills and most of all they become comfortable with who they are.
Solitary play develops self-reliance and enhances a child’s ability to trust in them self, first. They learn that there isn’t always someone waiting on you at every moment. Sometimes children who aren’t encouraged to have time alone or play independently, develop a need to have someone guiding them and helping them through everything. Which honestly, puts parents in a difficult situation because we all have 101 things we should be doing, and if we sat down and played with or guided our children in structured play al day long, well…. Nothing would get done.
As children grow, independent play encourages them to try things by themselves first. For instance, Miss T loves playing with her babies, dressing and undressing them, which requires complex fine motor skills and patience. A skill she is still developing, but while she is playing independently she is trying to do up their buttons and zips, pull on their socks and so forth, she is trying to do it herself before she asks me to help.
5. Better Learners.
Children who can play independently, are more focused and have longer attention spans. Through a calm mind, in a child who isn’t overwhelmed, comes better concentration and more focus. Emotional regulation is also linked to higher academic success and better mental health in adulthood. Thus, independent play is beneficial in the long run. Further, children play with purpose and are learning as they play, by building on developing skills and connecting neural pathways.
To quote Albert Einstein, imagination will take you everywhere… With imagination comes logical thinking, questioning, dreaming, pretending and reinforcing what a child has experienced or observed in their life. Independent play is one of the best forms of imagination. Independent play is open ended and can lead a child anywhere.
I hope you find this post useful and encourage independent Play more in your home.
& remember to look after yourself, in order to be the best you can be for your children. Read more on ways to avoid burnout as a parent here.