Ignore Your Kids: It's Good for Them


playing aloneWe're supposed to love playing with our kids, and for about an hour, I do. But after a full 60 minutes of lining ponies up across the living room floor for no reason other than I was ordered to, and perching said ponies on top of toy cars to zoom them under the couch, it's time to get myself out of there.

I walk away and leave her to her own devices. Whether she wants me to or not, I put her in the driver's seat. I ignore my kid, and I firmly believe it's the only way to raise them. Kids who have the opportunity to say "I'm bored," I'm finding, are usually pretty boring themselves.

Scientists at the University of Glasgow would agree. They're working on a study on the impact of structured play on the future abilities of university students, and they've found the students whose parents micromanaged them as children are less confident as young adults. They're used to their parents' hovering, so they're willing to let others take charge.

But as a mom who has always worked at least part-time from home, I've depended largely on my daughter's independence to juggle the lifestyle that's kept food on her table. It wasn't simply that I didn't want to play with her. I couldn't. That we decided she was going to be an only child only strengthened my resolve: she had to learn to entertain herself early on because there would be no regular playmate in the house to keep her occupied.

It's easier said than done, Mom and Dad, I know that. Times have changed. Living on a lonely back road in the '80s, I would be gone for hours, and my parents had no idea where I was or what I was up to. I not only entertained myself, I kept out of their hair.

Today's parents are wary of letting their kids go off by themselves; many times we can't. I don't have the same sort of neighborhood that my parents did to let my child roam. There are less adventures to be had, and she's up close and personal all day long. Where my parents didn't have to play with me because I was gone, our kids are in our face begging to be played with.

I try to look at it with that glass half full perspective: she doesn't have quite the range of options I had, so she has to think harder to come up with fun. That's teaching problem solving. She doesn't get to explore a neighborhood, but that means the toys we buy actually get played with. That's putting our money to good use.

I used to feel guilty ignoring my child and telling her "go play." A good mom, I supposed, would be down on the floor for hours braiding pony hair and replacing batteries in noisy toys. But she's never in danger, she's got plenty of love, and the scientists just gave me a big vote of confidence. I'm willing to take the risk that she'll be a bossy adult if it means I never hear the words "I'm booooored."

Do you play with your kids?


Image by Jeanne Sager

fun & games, play


To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

Cassandra McCloud

That sounds like my home structure! I work from my home office and my 4 yr old daughter is here all day. She will come sit on her own desk next to mine sometimes and I will help her as I can with crafts and things, but she loves going off on her own, in her own little dream world that is her bedroom. I feel so blessed that both of my kids will choose to spend hours on their own.. my 6yr old son will build wooden structures and paint them on his work bench, and my daughter will line up all of her dolls and be their Mommy.
Of course I love playing with them, and we play hard. Girl days, Dad days, Mom days.. climbing mountains, riding bikes, board games.. you name it. But really, for the most part, they enjoy themselves and I think that's very important!

Princess Ballerina

I work from home so I try to take breaks and play with her. But I notice my daughter only wants my attention when I'm busy lol. When I'm ready to play, my DD (3) gets annoyed with me because I'm boring and she'll go off and do her own thing. I feel bad I can't play with her all the time but I do what I can to feed me and her.

Mom2M... Mom2MonkeyGeese

Just being a SAHM, there are days when I NEED to focus on the house!  I am SO glad my girls both know how to entertain themselves, I started it on purpose with my oldest when I found out I was expecting my 2nd child b/c I KNEW I could not devote 100% to child 1, child 2, AND the house at any given time....and now that I'm expecting child #3 I'm even more grateful for their independence...

Nikki Pope

This is a great post and a topic many mommies could learn from. The term 'ignoring your kids' may sound harsh to some, but seriously, kids HAVE to learn to play by themselves. One thing I love that my sister does (she has 5 munchkins under the age of 8)is when she hears a possible disagreement rising between her little people, she kind of hangs back and waits to hear if they are going to work through it themselves. Its awesome, because she quickly learned that 90% of the time the kids dont need her to step in. Thanks for the post Jeanne!

nonmember avatar Allboys

I do play with them as a group and individually but having four children means they like to play with each other mostly. I can not spend my entire day focused on one child because I have things that need to get done. Though I have learned that ignoring them is a bad, bad idea. Just when I think they are playing nice and quietly with a puzzle I turn around to find a sharpie drawing on my kitchen floor. Or One of my delightful children sprinkles dried oatmeal all over my living room while I'm making lunch. So while letting them play unstructured is great always be aware of the quiet. quiet is BAD.

sstepph sstepph

I`m a SAHM to one 27 month old little boy, and I do play with him through out the day, but I do encourage him to play by himself, and he does :)

RanaA... RanaAurora

Not giving your gives time to play by themselves is actually way more damaging than if you COULD spend every waking second with the My Little Ponies. ;)

Tiffany Fisher

i agree with this! i am a SAHM of 2 kids and obviously,i am not playing with them as i write this. my children are still1 and 3,but my computer is in my lviving room a.k.a the play room. its a way of giving them their time while being no more thana few feet away and i believe we are all happier for it

paper... papercutout

My girl is an only child as well and I always worry that I do not spend enough time with her because both DH and I work late hours. I have noticed when I put the guilt aside and let her do her own thing, she can absolutely keep herself occupied. After reading your article I am wondering, have I been hovering most of her life? Has this affected her self confidence? DD seems too *nice* to stand up for herself in school though she will fiercely defend a friend. Food for thought, thanks. Great article!

maine... mainemusicmaker

I'll play with them for awhile, but they're really good at entertaining themselves. Sometimes you have no choice. As a single, full-time, working mom, I just don't get a lot of excess time to waste.

1-10 of 26 comments 123 Last