How do I encourage independant play for my four year old?

Sara - posted on 06/26/2012 ( 8 moms have responded )




Hello all. Just joined. :)

My daughter and I are living overseas. As we are still getting settled in we don't have a car, and she isn't at daycare yet. She spent a few months at her grandmother's while I came over here to get things started and... I am afraid it was entirely too long. She now thinks that it is normal and expected that she will be the center of everyone's world all of the time. And while she definitely is our world, we cannot constantly entertain her the way her grandmother did. I cannot give her the attention that a family of five gave her- I am only one person. I also cannot give her chocolate chip pancakes every morning, do everything she demands without asking her to ask nicely- and a few other... undesirable habits she has picked up while there.

She is my first, and will probably be my only. I have been blessed to have the most relaxed and well mannered child, without having to really put a lot of work into it- and now I am left unsure how to encourage her to go back to playing on her own (and not be so bossy with everyone) so I can get things done, without a tantrum, or her new trick of laying the most effective guilt trip known to mankind. It is like she has forgotten how to play! And it is putting a huge strain on me.

I am not happy with being stuck in the house as much as we are, and I am sure she is not. But this is just the way it is now and we need to find some ways to stay entertained without relying on the TV. I tried setting up a schedule that would mimic school- we worked on numbers, letters, drawing.. she loved it! But we didn't get very far before she started in with "But grandma let me..." And I had to resist the urge to finish for her with "Let you eat so much junk your pediatrician gave us a stern lecture....?" and "Let you do whatever you want and seems to have actively encouraged you to order people instead of asking nicely.." and it just devolved from there. I'll admit it, I'm a weak mommy. I don't feel prepared for this new challenge and I need help. I've never had to set up rules and be firm with her before and I don't know what's acceptable.

My biggest worry is I will be *too* strict with her. I find myself telling her to go to her room when she's been sassy, or just stop talking all together for a while when she continually interupts people when they're talking, and just basically taking a "well you're SOL" attitude with her when she says she's bored. Obviously these things are not working. She's highly intelligent. Her last well child apt revealed she is actually on par with a ten year old socially and emotionally. So most of the "tricks" I seem to remember my mom using don't work.

Sorry for the lengthy post. If anyone has any ideas or resources to point me to I'd greatly appreciate it!


User - posted on 06/26/2012




It sounds like she needs more contact with children her own age, so she can learn or relearn social skills alongside them and won't be as dependent on you to entertain her. Try and find a group that meets in your area that she can become involved with.

Marietta - posted on 06/26/2012




Honestly it sounds like your daughter went through alot of emotional challenges while away from you for that period of time and is lashing out at you. If you teach a child a certain way then thats the only way they really trust feel at home in there hearts and while away from home she tried to find home inside with how you live and teach her but instead of finding it she had to adapt even if she didnt want to. I am not a doctor by no means but thats the way it sounds to me. I think she needs to feel home isn't leaving anymore to know inside that you arent going anywhere. Its kinda like seeing you both back to back arms crossed and pouting. She doesnt understand what youve been through and vice versa. I suggests a little counseling before the feelings take root and it becomes more challenging for you both. Hope this helps I am a mom of 5 but not of one good luck and I hope your relationship with your daughter heals.

Darcy Sharman - posted on 06/28/2012




Can you share where you are living?

I was a Canadian expat in the UAE when we had my daughter. We moved back to Canada six months later, so I didn't experience some challenges first hand, but I did have close friends that moved to the UAE when their son was 5, and I saw some of their challenges at close range. I can also understand if you are experiencing feelings of loneliness and frustration...been there, done that :)

Is there an expat women's group where you are? We had quite a few; some were aimed at specific origin countries and some were more general in membership. In my experience, many women were much older than me but it was a place to start. They could also clue you in to whether there is a local mothers' group you could join. A little searching may also turn up an expat women's discussion forum for your area (The UAE had active ones for Abu Dhabi and Dubai and they were useful for both meeting people and getting information and support as a new resident).

Having or moving a child to a foreign country is not easy. Much of her acting up may just be her being unsettled from all the change and moving around; time will help with that. Good luck :)


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Jodi - posted on 06/29/2012




You simply need to explain that the rules at grandma's house and the rules at our house are different. And that it is wonderful her time with grandma was so happy for her and that the next time she visits grandma it will be just as wonderful, AND this is not grandma's house. Analogize it to vacation or a trip to the zoo, both are wonderful but they aren't an everyday thing.

Go back to your school schedule and include some self-directed "reading time" (coloring, exploration with books, crafts that can be done alone, etc.) and some outside time for "recess", even if it is just walking around the block or skipping around the block, or using sidewalk chalk on the front stoop. Gradually, the routine and inclusion of solo time will create the opportunity for her to again be satisfied and desirous of her self directed time.

Sara - posted on 06/29/2012




Darcy we are in Portugal. Judging from the reaction at the hospital and the American consulate (which is staffed by British expats) we are the only North Americans anywhere nearby. There are plenty of British Expats, but they are generally retirees. We will be putting her into an international school but the school year hasn't started yet, so our option is putting her directly into daycare here with children she can't actually talk with yet.

There are some expat groups but they are generally adult activities like sailing and drinking wine and boring things like that. I think a lot of the problem is that where we are currently we are very cut off from the rest of the world- as it takes several (scary) bus rides to get to anything to do, and it has been so hot that the experts are saying to stay indoors. It's a recipe for frustration for both mommy and daughter!

Sandy - posted on 06/27/2012




Sounds like my daughter and our situation a bit. We live on Okinawa. Although I drive, know a bit of the language and my way around, it's difficult to get her into a regular playgroup, because we live off base.

We do our best to remind her not to be demanding and be polite. However, she is impatient and has a temper, much like I do and both her grandmothers. Yay, genetics. She does play well with others, if they aren't grabby and do what she wants them to do. She can also play on her own though, which she's had to learn, because I have housework and other work to do. It's a learned thing. She yells and throws a fit, and goes to her room for it, until she can calm down. It's a serious test of my patience, which is virtually nonexistent.

We have the SOL attitude with her also, because frankly, that's what we grew up with as kids. She is the center of our world, but there is other stuff going on around her. She is not the center of the universe though. At some point, they figure it out. Hopefully. ☺

Sara - posted on 06/26/2012




Sarah, the problem here is a language/culture barrier as well as being in an area where we can't easily get out. It shouldn't be long, but for now this is what we've got. I have been trying to find other kids she can play with but in this country parents don't really get the idea that kids need to get out or do things or have play dates or any of the stuff we might do in the US/UK/Canada/Australia, etc. They're very behind and actually think it's just fine to do things like smoke around their children or keep them in the house without doing anything for weeks on end. So I am up against a lot of stuff when it comes to getting her out and doing things with other kids. Back in the US we had a museum we went to all the time that she just loved. Parks everywhere. Had playdates etc. I had no idea that here those things would be very hard to come by. I am very frustrated because I feel that in a lot of ways this place was misrepresented to me but we can't very well do anything about it now. And she's very happy exploring gardens, going for walks, going to the beach, but right now it's hard for us to get out to do these things more than once a week.

Marietta- I didn't set out to leave the impression she is lashing out. She is simply being bossy, which is a perfectly normal milestone. We have always been extremely close, and yes, being apart was hard for both of us, but it couldn't be avoided. She's not being bossy in any sort of an angry manner, she's simply forgotten that it's better to be polite when asking for things. Her father's parents are... not at all like me. I wouldn't say they're bad people because they are not and they love her very much, but they spoiled her a bit too much. I remember my own grandmother doing the same and fights with my mom afterwards.

I do think that our relationship needs some healing, but we're working on that. I feel that this is directly related to being overstimulated for a few months and her needing to relearn how to stimulate herself.

I know it's an awkward situation and I am looking for suggestions on how to deal with it.

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