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Let kids enjoy some alone time

Alone-time should not be confused with loneliness. Giving kids the opportunity to enjoy some ‘me-time’ helps them develop empathy, creativity and a healthy sense of self

When we constantly structure our children’s lives, we can take away their freedom. Photo: Pexels
When we constantly structure our children’s lives, we can take away their freedom. Photo: Pexels

The other day, my mother-in-law commented on how surprised she was to see my 9-year-old daughter so content, spending time by herself. She often spends an entire afternoon alone, working on a craft, painting, or reading. And until now, it did not strike me as something out of the ordinary, because I enjoy some me-time time as well. ‘Aloneness’ cannot be compared to loneliness, but it has become apparent that modern-day parenting—in its well-meaning attempt at keeping children busy all the time—often overlooks the benefit of encouraging alone time.

Human beings are social beings—we feel the need to be in the company of others in order to thrive. However, research shows that even for the most socially motivated individuals, spending some time alone can be good. Psychotherapist Amy Morin, in an article titled 7 science-backed reasons you should spend time alone, published in the Forbes magazine in 2017, said that alone time can increase empathy, productivity, creativity, mental strength, helps one understand oneself, plan their life, and can reduce behaviour problem in children.

Some me-time helps children “be in control of their lives”, says Mumbai-based parenting researcher, Harpreet Singh Grover, who is also known for his podcast, The Curious Parent. “When we constantly structure our children’s lives, we can take away their freedom.” Free play is also important.

Also read: How to change your child's ‘no’ to a confident ‘yes’

History is filled with examples of solitary geniuses—Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Kafka and Isaac Newton—to name just a few. This, however, does not mean that a child should be forced to stay alone. Like everything else, moderation is key, and a slow introduction to some unhindered time can pave the way to creativity and comfort in one’s own company. It can strengthen their sense of self-identity without the influence of others.

“Being comfortable in your own company, I think, is important especially when a child is growing into teenage years, when things like peer pressure, body image and the need to ‘fit in’ start sprouting in a child’s mind,” said Bengaluru-based Susan Menon, who is a school teacher and a mother to two teenage boys, aged 13 and 16.

Child development psychologist, Arati Bakshi goes on to add that alone time, or the ‘time to get bored’, helps build patience and impulse control in children—attributes that become building blocks of their personality. “Resilience is in-built in children. Alone time allows a child to build and break things, they can introspect on whether or not to do something,” says Bakshi.

The definition of alone time can mean different things for different age groups. “For a toddler, playing on her own while the mother is five-ten feet away, is alone time,” says Grover, “For a slightly older child, playing around other children and not necessarily with them in the park, could mean the same thing.” When I look back, at around the age of six, my daughter would love playing under my work desk. We’d both do our own thing, with a physical proximity. As time went on, she became more comfortable in her own space, as long as she knew one of her parents was in the house.

Also read: 5 constructive ways to resolve conflict among siblings

But Bakshi advises that parents should keep a tab on the amount of time a child spends alone. “In my house, with my three sons, we have a no-shut-door policy when alone—no laptop or mobile phone, no social media too,” she said, “As long as your child is a part of a group of friends, or has one or two really good friends, there is no need to worry.”

A Harvard study said that people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they are experiencing something alone. In today’s constantly connected world, just like adults need their ‘me-time’, encouraging children to value their own company could be a life skill that could be crucial for the future.

Azera Parveen Rahman is a writer currently based in Bhuj, Gujarat.

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