Toddler Won't Play Alone

My 4 year old son doesn't like to play in his room by himself. He follows me around most of the time saying hes bored, and he also has a really nasty temper and breaks all of his toys. Any ideas on what I can do?

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By Sara from Ontario, Canada

December 18, 20090 found this helpful

I do not know of any child that will play in another room alone,they want to be in the same room with mom,mine stayed in the kitchen or dinning room with me when I were cooking ,maybe some coloring books will help him or some tinker toys he can build something with,good luck.

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December 18, 20090 found this helpful

I'm not sure when my daughter got to where she'd play by herself in her room, maybe at 4 or 5. She used to prefer to play in the living room, but I got tired of her millions of little pieces of toys that she refused to pick up after playing (like Littlest Pets and Legos), so I banned her from bringing those out of her room. So I think that helped transition her back to her bedroom.

So I don't know if the independent playing will come with time, but if he is intentionally breaking his toys, I think you probably shouldn't replace them. If the broken toy poses a danger, throw it out. If it isn't dangerous, he can try to get by with what he's done. There need to be consequences, or else he will continue the behavior, and he will never learn to appreciate what he's been given.

My daughter tried the "I'm bored" and nasty behavior for a while. She lost her privileges (TV/computer/video games) for several days, and had to figure out how to entertain herself. So if you let him do any of these things, maybe unplug for a while. Initially it'll be miserable for you (the complaining will increase), but provide him with things for his imagination (craft items, Legos, etc), help him along a bit, and I bet he'll figure out what to do.

Best of luck -- I hope your little man turns the corner soon!

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December 18, 20090 found this helpful

I would not think a child of that age would like to be too far away from their mommy. They like to be close to mommy. Using rewards might encourage him to stay in his room, like if you go there and remark how good it is to be in there. I would buy little gifts and hide them around his room. If he goes into his room, I would praise him, I would not let him know you want him to play in his room, being the age he is, that would be like telling him to stay out of the room completely. It has been a while since I have had a four year old, my autistic child at four was so unlike a typical child and then my typical child at four was pretty calm but since she turned 9 she is more like a teenager with all the accompanying attitude. It is really funny. They are such blessings. I do not know you son's individual personality, but usually rewarding behaviour, usually works. We take all our kids to a therapist for things that might be bothering them...it is a nice thing to do if you are worried at all that they are stressed.

Blessings, Robyn

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December 18, 20090 found this helpful

Sounds like he's needing more interaction. No one likes to be shoved off in a room. Maybe take short walks with a small container for gathering treasures. When you get home, have a snack, then let him draw pix of his treasures [rocks, weeds, sticks, and so on]. Have a tray he can put the stuff on, Then next time, he can decide what to throw away.

Let him play with small bunch of toys near you and chat with him if he wants to chat, or leave him alone

if he's imagining, but tell him he has to be calm and no tantrums [watch supernanny for ideas on calming kids down, she's great] but at another time.

Lots of kids are not getting enough sleep [latest research is: must be asleep by ten, and in the dark after falling asleep. Seems we are synchronized to the earth, even when we can't see it.

Tell him you can play with him sometimes but you also have to do grown up work, because that's what grown ups do. Tell him he can play near you and watch some of the work people need to do to keep their houses in order when they are grown. However sitting and watching TV doesn't qualify, though he can draw near you, etc. Drawing, building toys are great for kids. Action toys, have their pluses and minuses.

Another things kids like are boxes. All sizes, for their toys, and to make forts, etc. The big stuff is best

for afternoon when there's time to clean up before fixing dinner.

I know many people do dinner rather haphazardly anymore, but a regular mealtime once or twice a day does a lot to set the tone of the day. Also a little meal planning tends to reduce costs over time. Chatting at dinner also gives child a different kind of attention.

It's okay for kids to know there are work times, quiet times, chatting times, etc. You might have a tea time

in afternoon when you make a snack [small sandwiches, cut in cute shapes where you have tea, and he has juice] or a bedtime snack, after which the kitchen is closed for the evening. That gets control of

constant snacking, which means constant requesting.

All these things give small children the idea that everything from small to large in life has a beginning, a middle, and and end. Not an endless, never ending [no matter what the movies say}fantasy of all I want, as much as I want, for as long as I want, and all right now. Children like the sense that parents are in control, in a calm and reassuring way. One doesn't need tremendous resources, just thinking things out a bit.

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December 19, 20090 found this helpful

I had my son help with housework. He loved feeling helpful when he was young. Loved helping me do dishes, dusting, etc. If it wasn't done quite right, I just went over it later when he was busy elewhere as you don't want to be too critical when they are small. I also took him with me to buy groceries and let him pick his own box of cereal and any piece of fruit he wanted for his snack that day. I never ever bought junk food. Most young children just want to buy something themselves like you are doing and so was perfectly happy getting to choose his own piece of fruit. We also went to the library several times a week so he could choose books to check out. I read to him every day before his nap and his father read to him at bedtime.

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December 19, 20090 found this helpful

Thanks for your posts. If he won't stay in his room he usually brings a few toys down to play while in the same room as me, but I'm not saying I want to keep him in his room all the time. I meant that he only likes to stay in his room if I'm in there or if hes going to bed. It's like an attachment thing because everywhere I go. He has to be there too. He will see me hug or kiss my boyfriend and he gets so angry and then starts pushing my boyfriend away from me. I spend as much time with my son as possible but it is nice to do adult stuff alone without him there every second, but thanks again for your posts.

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December 20, 20090 found this helpful

I am no specialist, but there's definitely some jealousy going on-and some insecurity. suggest you pull this sort of stuff up on the 'web and read up on it. children are afraid of so many things, and losing a parent is one of the primary fears at that age, esp. if he was close to daddy and now daddy is completely out of the picture. he sees your boyfriend as an usurper and as a danger. if he was confident, he would be less clingy, but someone important to him has vanished-or appears at risk of vanishing, in your case, and so he's going to shadow you so he can be sure he's safe. kids often assume things that are completely incorrect, they need explained to in simple terms they can understand, but with respect to their intellegence and with understanding of their fears.

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December 20, 20090 found this helpful

I may be off base on what I am reading here, but if you are expecting that he will play alone in his room while you and the boyfriend watch a movie or have a romantic dinner, you have unrealistic expectations of a 4 year old. No toddler is going to like being left out. If this is a new boyfriend, and you previously spent all of your time with your son, then there will be jealousy issues, and that could be why he gets angry and breaks his toys.

You need to do things with him, and not expect that he will entertain himself all the time. Some kids like interaction and want to help with mom's chores, or just like to play near mom. Others need the one on one attention where you play with them. Also, perhaps he needs to get out to things like story hour at the library or a pre-school or play school one or two days a week, or maybe some sort of gymnastics or something. He needs to have things to look forward to, and activities and maybe some friends of his own.

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December 28, 20090 found this helpful

According to developmental scales (specifically I'm looking at the Hawaii Early Learning Profile, but they are all similar), children begin playing independently for 10 minutes sometime between their 4th and 5th birthdays. By the time they are 6, it goes up to 25 minutes. Between 5 1/2 and 6 1/2 years old, they begin to "play" alone for longer periods of time without disrupting others.

Expressing feelings in a controlled manner does not come until 5 years old, however, obeying rules starts at 4 years old, so he should not be breaking toys.

My suggestion would be to find out why he is breaking toys and why he "has a bad temper". Teach him what we call a "Functionally Equivalent Alternative Response" by teaching him how to get what he wants in an appropriate way. If he wants your attention, teach him to ask for it. When he asks nicely, give it to him.

Playing alone- find out how long he is currently playing alone (5 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes?). Reinforce him (hugs and 5 M&Ms?) for playing for that amount of time and slowly increase the amount of time you are having him play alone before he gets his reinforcement. Eventually he will be playing for long amounts of time :)

There is probably lots of information about this on the internet. Good luck :)

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