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My son (currently 8 months old) is quite content to sit by himself and play with toys (blocks, toy cars, etc.).

We make sure that he spends time interacting with other children, and we also make sure that we spend one-on-one (and two-on-one) time playing with him, reading to him, singing, etc., and he clearly enjoys those activities. However, he seems equally content to be on his own.

My assumption has been that play time without interacting with other people would help him develop some independence, and hopefully help teach him not to be bored when no one is actively entertaining him. However, I don't really have any research, or even experience, to back this assumption up.

Is there benefit to him spending time playing solo? Is there a certain amount of time he should spend playing by himself each day (or a limit to how much time he spends playing by himself)? Does this change according to developmental stages?

9

Playing on his own a bit can increase his independence (or perhaps his desire to do so signals he's already pretty independent?) -- either way it's not a bad thing. It sounds like he's getting plenty of social interaction :)

As for "how much" solo play is good and how much is too much, it depends entirely on the personality of the child. As long as he's not becoming a couch potato (i.e. being babysat by the TV) or reacting negatively to family time, play dates, etc. it's not too much. As long as you aren't tearing your hair out at the difficulty of folding laundry or cooking dinner with a velcro child attached to your leg, it's not too little.

4

Here's a good research based article on the importance of supervised play: http://www.parentingscience.com/preschool-social-skills.html In short, kids play better when parents model different social skills. Too much time with peers can actually undermine behavior.

But 8 months is really young. My understanding of the research is that until about age 3, kids mostly engage in something called parallell play. They play along side one another but not really with one another. More on parallell play here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parallel_play

You asked if there are advantages to solo play. I'm fuzzier on what the research says here, but concentration and enjoyment of self-identified tasks is a virtue. See: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on flow (TED.com)

4

Lucky you! Any child who learns to play on their own is exhibiting a secure attachment to their parent, and he is probably using you as a secure base, which means he'll explore or play on his own and every so often glance at you to make sure you're still there and approving of his activities. I don't know of any hard and fast rules about amounts of time, but one thing that you can always do is narrate the child's play. Teachable moments at that age are pretty constant, and saying things like "Oh, you picked up the red ball!" will be teaching your baby colors and shapes, while still allowing him to dictate his play time.

3

Benefit:
Teaching or letting a child play on its own seems absolutely fine to me, certainly nothing to try to avoid. As you say, it teaches independence and also creativity.

Risks:
As long as the child doesn't turn into a hermit who always wants to be alone, I'm sure it's beneficial. Since you also engage in play with him and he enjoys that, I don't see a risk of training him into being a loner.

Time:
I don't think there's any specific amount of time that he must achieve, or avoid. That would entirely depend on the personality of the child and his surroundings.

  • So, you think introversion is a bad thing? – Ernie Jun 8 '11 at 21:43
  • Like almost anything else, I think anything is okay in moderation. Introversion is only a bad thing if it's very pronounced. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 9 '11 at 9:23
2

Interesting question. Although infants do play with parents and siblings, most do not initiate interactive play until around three years of age. Solitary play is what babies do. LINK

Parallel play is a form of play in which children play adjacent to each other, but do not try to influence one another's behavior. Children usually play alone during parallel play but are interested in what other children are doing. This usually occurs after the first birthday.

Link to PBS Whole Child I like this page because it pretty much fits with my education and experience and it is easy to read and understand.

Play is an important part of the learning process at GEMS World Academy Chicago – Early Years Preschool. The role of play in the development of young children has been well documented; here’s a look at the “six stages of play” as outlined by noted sociologist Mildred Parten.

Parten studied play while at the Institute of Child Development in Minnesota. Her study suggested that when children engaged in active playtime, they learned how to interact with other children, cooperate, share and make friends.

Parten stated that children’s play changed as they developed, going through six distinct stages that generally, but not always, corresponded to children’s ages:

From Gems

Unoccupied play – The child is seemingly not engaged or actively playing with others at all. They may remain stationary and be engaged in random movements with no objective. This stage of play is mostly seen in newborns and infants, between the ages of 0 and 2. This is an important setting stage for future play exploration and development.

Solitary play – During this stage of play, children will often play alone, with toys different from those of others, and be uninterested or unaware of what others around them are doing. This stage of play is most commonly seen in young toddlers between the ages of 2 and 3, but it is important for children of all age groups to participate in from time to time. Solitary play is common at a young age because cognitive, physical and social skills have yet to fully develop. This type of play is important because it teaches children how to entertain themselves.

[from PBS Whole Child](

From the start, babies eagerly explore their world-and that includes themselves and other people.

birth to 3 months Babies spend a lot of time getting to know their own bodies. They: Suck their own fingers Observe their own hands Look at the place on the body that is being touched Begin to realize she is a separate person from others and learn how body parts, like arms and legs, are attached

Infants are interested in other people and learn to recognize primary caregivers. Most infants: Can be comforted by a familiar adult Respond positively to touch Interact best when in an alert state or in an inactive and attentive state Benefit from short, frequent interactions more than long, infrequent ones Smile and show pleasure in response to social stimulation

3 months to 6 months Babies are more likely to initiate social interaction. They begin to: Play peek-a-boo Pay attention to own name Smile spontaneously Laugh aloud

6 months to 9 months Babies show a wider emotional range and stronger preferences for familiar people. Most can: Express several clearly differentiated emotions Distinguish friends from strangers Respond actively to language and gestures Show displeasure at the loss of a toy

9 months to 12 months As they near age one, imitation and self-regulation gain importance. Most babies can: Feed themselves finger foods Hold a cup with two hands and drink with assistance Hold out arms and legs while being dressed Mimic simple actions Show anxiety when separated from primary caregiver

Child Development Institute

There are three basic forms of play:

Solitary Play

Babies usually like to spend much of their time playing on their own. They are exploring all aspects of their environment from the sound of their own voice and the feel of their own body parts to those of others. They want to gaze upon, grab, suck and rattle any object that comes their way.

Older children at times will also prefer to play on their own. They may spend hours making up stories with their GI Joes or Barbie Dolls. They like to build, draw, paint, invent and explore by themselves. They hopefully will also like to read and even write on their own.

Parallel Play

From the age of two to about three, children move to playing alongside other children without much interaction with each other. They may be engaged in similar activities or totally different activities but they like being around others their own age. Even though it may appear that they don’t care about the presence of the other children, just try separating them and you will see this contact from a far is very important to them.

Group Play

By the age of three, children are ready for preschool. They are potty trained, able to communicate and socialize with others. They are able to share ideas and toys. Through interactive play they begin to learn social skills such as sharing and taking turns. They also develop the ability to collaborate on the “theme” of the play activity. The children not adults should institute play themes and structure. Adults should only intervene when children exhibit the need for coaching on social and problem solving skills.

Finally, children also like to play with adults. This can be one to one or in a group. It is important that parents spend time playing with their children. It is fun. Let the kids set the pace and become a part of their world. No need to teach or preach, just enjoy the experience.

Note: It is OK for kids to frequently engage in solitary play. However, the need to develop social and communication skills requires a balance. If a child ONLY plays by himself, it may indicate a problem. Don’t hesitate to talk to an expert such as your child’s pediatrician or teacher if you have concerns.

  • Thanks for the resources; I'll take a look at them later. Obviously my son is a bit older now, but I'm still interested in knowing more about the differences between interactive play and solo play on development. Is there any information you've found about benefits of solo time vs. parallel play? I feel there's a difference, as even if they're not actually playing together, they are still becoming accustomed to being around other children. Indeed, more than 5 years later, my son prefers to be in the same room with others, even if he's not directly interacting. – user420 Jan 30 '17 at 15:12
  • @Beofett How about asking the question again and your son's age and so on? I'd be happy to share info with you. – WRX Jan 30 '17 at 15:18
  • I might, but I'm still interested in more information about this question. Honestly, I commented because I feel your answer is relevant, but doesn't quite answer the actual question (which is admittedly somewhat broader than I would write now). If your links address any of the points in the last paragraph of my question, it would be great if you could edit your answer to include them (relying on content in external links is something SE generally tries to avoid, partially since there is no guarantee those sites will be available 5 years from now; the goal is for answers to be self-contained). – user420 Jan 30 '17 at 15:25
  • Well I will add in information about 9 month old children, as you requested. – WRX Jan 30 '17 at 15:36
  • I was a Spec Ed teacher and we had to teach socialization. If that is your interest, perhaps I can help. It depends of course; I don't know your child and can only give you ideas. I try not to give specific advice because of that. – WRX Jan 30 '17 at 15:41
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I'd say let him play on his own as much as he wants to. Make sure he can come and get you guys if he gets distressed, but if he's happy, there's no problem.

If he never engaged in social play with adults, or only when adults forced him to, then that could be a sign of a developmental issue. But if he absolutely refused to play alone ever, that would also be a sign of a problem. Most kids his age can enjoy both kinds of play, and learn valuable lessons from both.

As for social play with other children, it won't hurt to try, but be aware that many kids at his age aren't really interested in other children yet. Eight month olds find it hard to set up much interaction without an older person supporting them. Most kids his age either just smile or stare, or else they start grabbing at the other baby.

  • Hi, Ettina, and welcome to the site. Please note that the OP states his child is 8 months old (not likely to come find his parents) and asks: "Is there benefit to him spending time playing solo? Is there a certain amount of time he should spend playing by himself each day (or a limit to how much time he spends playing by himself)? Does this change according to developmental stages?" Your answer doesn't really address the questions. I also am concerned about this: "I'd say let him play on his own as much as he wants to." Sources for statements like that are very much appreciated. – anongoodnurse Jul 4 '15 at 4:14

protected by Rory Alsop Jan 30 '17 at 13:31

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