How parents can get alone time – and teach kids about self-care
Are your kids clamouring for your attention 24/7? Here's how to train them to leave you alone once in a while.
One of the best days of 2020 for me was in December when I got a root canal. I got to be horizontal in the dentist’s chair without the ability to doom-scroll or anyone asking me for snacks.
Afterward, since I’d already told my family and colleagues I’d be gone a while, I wandered around downtown Manhattan, browsed used books on the sidewalk and listened to a grown-up podcast as I drove home. It was glorious.
Parents need time alone, and I want my kids (ages six and 11) to value this kind of independence, too. How can I explain the importance of that in an age-appropriate way?
Here’s what the experts had to say.
1. IT’S TIME TO TEACH KIDS ABOUT SELF-CARE
Discussing alone time is an opportunity to teach kids about good mental health. “Do not suggest that this is a strange thing for a person to need to do,” said Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologist who writes The Times’s Adolescence column.
“Say, ‘When I’m with you, I really want to be able to focus on you, so I need to do some mental housekeeping and I do that on my own. That way I can be much more present when we’re together’.”
2. ALONE TIME SHOULD BE PART OF YOUR FAMILY’S ROUTINE
Remember those colour-coded charts from the early COVID-19 days? All the family dinners?
“We talked about family routines” when the pandemic started, said Dr Hina Talib, an associate professor of paediatrics and an adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, NY. “Why didn’t we talk about creating a routine of alone time?”
Her kids (ages three and five) know she goes outside each day “to stare at a tree in the backyard”.
Lizzie Assa, founder of The Workspace for Children, a website and Instagram account that helps parents teach kids to play on their own, has made sure her three kids (ages eight, 11 and 14) have “quiet time” every day since they were toddlers.
She said it took work, but the payoff is worth it.
3. IT’S OKAY FOR YOUR KIDS TO BE UPSET
If you don’t want to spend every waking hour with your children, “it’s developmentally appropriate for them to be insulted”, said Dr Pooja Lakshmin, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the George Washington School of Medicine.
As a parent, help them understand it’s okay to feel sad. She added that sitting with that discomfort teaches kids they can take care of themselves even if it makes someone else unhappy temporarily.
By Farah Miller © The New York Times
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.