Single Child--how Do You Keep Occupied?

Updated on March 08, 2013
A.M. asks from Minneapolis, MN
22 answers

I'm a very greatful, very happy older mom of one child, a daugher who is 7. My hours are flexible so I'm often home with her. I try to organize playdates (and I'm trying to get her to initiate if she wants), but we're often home just the two of us. I feel the need to keep her busy, because otherwise she just wants to watch t.v. (which I limit to 1 hour at most a day). She doesn't want to do things I like (puzzles/ games/reading etc.) but only wants me to play the make-believe pretend play where she dictates roles and even words. We end up not doing this for long and it always ends up with a desire to watch t.v. or she will lay on the floor and not doing anything, looking sad. She won't play for long by herself. (10 minutes?) I still have a lot of work to do (usual mom stuff like cooking/laundry/cleaning/bills in addition to my own take-home work) I grew up with siblings and still hold out hopes of adopting a second child, but in the meantime, I'm feeling like I'm not knowing how to parent a single child so well! Ideas or suggestions for how to encourage more individual play or sharing info on your afterschool routines would be most appreciated. Thanks!

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answers from Oklahoma City on

Kids need to be playing all sorts of things, pretend play is so important to their development. They learn tons of stuff while playing so let her play as much as she will. She could go outside, play dolls if she still does that, she could color, play with play doh, etc...each and every play activity she does is important.

BUT daydreaming and just sitting and thinking is important too. I don't think watching TV is bad so the kids TV's are on all the time. They are so used to them they hardly every sit down and watch a show. They play so much and it's just background noise.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I also have an only child (son 7 years old)....I can only play what he wants for so long...there are times that I want to interact with him but on my terms - so I will just start doing something that I think that both of us will enjoy. I don't ask him if he wants to do it....I just start doing it a puzzle or craft project, etc. 99% of the time he will come and join me. Especially if the electronics and/or tv are off limits.

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answers from Kansas City on

not to be obvious, but you don't mention how long she will play by herself. my son (single, 6 1/2) is pretty adept at it. i'm sure you don't need to be told, that's one of the gifts of only children, is their ability to entertain themselves...

if she's not, maybe she's not used to it? what happens when you tell her to go play? does she have plenty of "creative" toys? dolls, art supplies, barbies...? i have a boy so i don't know what all little girls play with lol.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I suggest that you need to let her lay on the floor without TV. When you try to entertain her she's not learning how to entertain herself. Expose her to various activities which sounds like you already have. Make suggestions but let her get bored enough that she'll choose something. Don't rescue her from sad. Her expression most likely indicates boredom right along with the sadness.

If you don't already do this, have her help you with mom stuff. At 7 she can help with almost everything. Have her sort laundry, fold laundry,wash dishes/load dishwasher, make her bed, put away clothes and toys, sweep/vacuum, dust, water plants. Start out by doing things together and once she knows how to do them you can go do something else.

When my grandchildren say they're bored their mother says if you can't find something to do, I'm sure I can and then offers a chore. This motivates them nearly every time. LOL

BTW they're 9 and 12 and have never played well together. They have different personalities and different interests.

My 9 yo grandson will spend hours playing with Legos and other small toys. His sister reads for hours. It takes her hours to clean her room because she looks at and plays with everything before she puts it away. She has always used a vivid imagination while playing with her Littlest Pet Shop animals.

Perhaps you could take her to a toy or craft store and have her choose something to buy that requires using time and developing interest. Look for things that will take up time and which she might enjoy. Include her in your search.

I had a stamp collection at that age and spent hours organizing it. She could learn various solitare games which would help her with memory and numbers. Both my daughter at that age and my granddaughter wrote stories and illustrated them.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Just keep the TV off and she will find something to do. Also, there's no reason why she can't be helping you with "mom" stuff, especially laundry, cooking and housework. I always had my kids "helping" with these tasks. Usually they just want your company, which is fine and great, but there's no reason for you to stop what you are doing to "play" with her, you're a mom, not a playmate. Invite her to help you with the chores, if she's bored she can find something else to do.

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answers from Honolulu on

Well I have 2 kids, but my daughter was an only child for about 4 years.
And we are very close.
But all along, though I was attentive to her.... I would just actually tell her, that she "can".... play by herself. Use her imagination, etc.
And at those times I would tell her "Mommy has to do my chores..." etc.
It may take repetition, but a child needs to learn.... how to self engage.
Being "bored"... is good.
Because, it is a time where they child can become... self reliant and use their imagination. Not having just passive entertainment where someone else, is doing it for them. For example.
Even if she is laying on the floor looking up at the sky... my daughter would be using her imagination and thoughts and come up with questions and wonderings, about herself or the world.

If your daughter looks sad or bored... tell her "Good. Now you can use your imagination." And TEACH her how to "problem solve." ie: if she is bored, what can SHE do? What can SHE think of? Teach her self-initiative. For some kids, it takes practice.

Don't feel bad, if at times your kid is bored or sad about being bored or about your having to do chores around the house. This is life. You are not an entertainer. You are Mommy, this is a house, there are things to do and a time and a place. You cannot just sit next to her all day, playing. HAVE HER.... do chores WITH you. At 7 years old, she should be anyway.

I would just tell my daughter.... to think of things on her own. I liked to see her.... and her mind, work. She would get very imaginative and come up with things to play, as I did things around the house. A child needs to be given space and time, to do that. Not us Moms always saving them when they are bored. Let your child be bored, and tell her... to think of things.
Put out some craft items/old boxes etc., and tell her to make something.

It doesn't matter if you have 1 child or more.
Because, even with siblings... some children simply do not self-engage.
Some kids need to be taught, how.
Some do not.
But teach your child how to problem-solve. How to have self-initiative and learn, about their own ideas and creativity.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I agree with Adansmama that your daugher might need more toys that stimulate her imagination. Have you took a look through her toys, games and puzzles lately? She may have outgrown them and find them dull, and they may not be designed for independent, imaginative play. Does she have craft supplies that are readily available and that are age-appopriate, for instance? If all you have for crafts are pompoms and glue and paper, it's time to get her beads and string, foam crafts, etc. -- lots more. Let her choose. When she says "I'm bored" you can say, there are two craft kits right there, go crazy.

Kids don't automatically know how to entertain themselves so she needs some guidance. Does she like to read? New books. Does she like books but doesn't yet read well enough to read to herself much? Get her books on CD or one of those devices for kids that "reads" a book -- the paper book goes in but there is also a reader device. Not sure what the latest one is (and I am NOT talking about a Kindle or Nook type of device -- she might end up just playing games on those rather than reading). You say "she doesn't want to do things I like" and put reading on that list, but is she getting to choose the books you read together or do you choose? Have you taken her on a bookstore or library outing? I'd get her her own library card and make a library trip at least once a week if not more. Maybe even reward her if she gets and actually reads at least X books at her level, whatever number works for you (be sure she does read them; have her sit with each one with you and tell you what happened and what she did or didn't like about it). Just going to the library regularly could turn her on to books, if she doesn't already go. The town library willl excite her more than the school library which she probably associates with school and classes.

If she likes make-believe, find games that include make-believe -- they are out there.

When you cook or do laundry, include her and make it seem like the best thing in the world. Have fun and she will have fun; make it seem like you think it's a chore and she too will say "It's a boring chore." Let her stir things, dump stuff into mixing bowls, mix sauce into the pasta, tear up lettuce for salads, whatever. Let her fold the laundry while you sit with her and do the same; it's good talking time. I'm not talking about giving her specific weekly chores (though she should have those) as much as I am talking about involving her in your tasks so the tasks get done but she is not off staring at the TV.

I would nix the TV entirely during the week. An hour a day doesn't seem like much to an adult but for a kid it is eight hours a week (at least). She's school age and to me that means no TV at all Sunday night through Thursday night, period. It will be good for her because soon she'll have more homework and if she's used to daily TV she is going to have a tougher and tougher time giving that up when she must -- and soon, she must, because school will be more demanding.

It sounds like there is only TV or the pretend games she likes in her life right now, so broaden her horizons with books, audiobooks, age-appropriate toys and crafts, but I'd get rid of most TV. And you do not have to entertain her. You just do what you need to do and include her in it.

I hope you aren't figuring on having another child just to provide her with a playmate and sibling. If you plan to adopt because you really want that child for his or her own sake, that's great, but please don't bring another child into your family thinking "My older child needs a sibling, playmate and lifelong best friend." That wouldn't be fair to either child because siblings are not necessarily playmates or friends; they may be totally different personalities with nothing in common, and you may have a lifetime of disappointment that your kids werent' the close friends you thought they would be. If you want that second child let it be for the child's own self and not with thoughts of providing a playmate or adult friend later on.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Have her help/assist you with chores.
She can help with cooking (making salads and sandwiches).
She can help sort laundry.
She can put dirty dishes in the dish washer and put clean dishes away (or at least on the counter if she can't reach high enough to put them away).
She can help with cleaning (my son LOVED to help with vacuuming at that age).
When we have a pile of papers that need shredding, my son helps with that too.
It's good for her to learn and to get in the habit of helping.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

She is 7 yrs old, not an infant.

She should be occupying herself. Is she in school? Does she have friends? Playdates? After school activities? Neighbors?

My daughter is an only child as well (18) now and she has tons of friends and when they are not here she has always kept herself busy with things she is interested in. My house has always been full of children from day one. We had a close knit neighbor group and our children were together daily. When school started she came home, got a snack, did homework and went out to play.

It is not healthy for your child to be so dependent on you for entertainment. She needs to learn independence.

Get her involved in something she likes to do, dance, gymnastics, Girl Scouts, etc and let her explore, make friends and become independent.

Good luck.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

My DD is pretty good at playing alone. I'm guessing all onlies aren't like this, though. Have you perhaps, possibly babied her too much in this department? She's old enough to entertain herself.

Are there any kids in the neighborhood that she can play with? DD is almost 7 and an only as well, and she plays with the neighborhood kids pretty much every day after school and on weekends. They all stay in a group and play outside, or at one of our houses. It's nice and I feel better about DD being lonely.

What about getting her into an activity of some sort? DD has a cheer lesson once a week for 45 minutes and it's just enough without being overwhelming.

What about arts & crafts? My girl loves anything crafty. You could get your DD an easel with a chalk board, paper roll, and dry erase board all in one and she can paint, color, doodle. You could get her construction paper, scissors, glue, markers, etc. We always have a large supply of crafty supplies and DD is good at doing those independently.

What about the library? We like to go to the library and check out a ton of books and DD will read those on and off through out the week.

Does she have any Polly Pockets or little figurines that she can play pretend with? Legos? DD likes things like that and she can go for a while playing like that.

Don't get me wrong, DD would watch TV all day if we let her, but I find that once the TV is off, if she has enough activities at her disposal, she naturally finds something to do.

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

Tis may be silly but can you encourage her to do her pretend play with dolls like barbie's? Then she can dictate both roles but you don't have to play too. My oldest was never good at playing alone vs my youngest needs to. So kids are different. But my oldest is 8 now and for awhile has been better when it's with dolls. She loves loves her American girl doll. That she can do alone for a good amt of time. And what about computer games? I actually keep meaning to get some bc many are educational and some people say gamers are quicker academically. Otherwise I agree she should help you with your chores. But also nothing wrong with making her play alone some. It's an impt "skill". Some have it naturally but others seem to have to learn.

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answers from Washington DC on

by not occupying her.
so she lies on the floor and looks sad. that's not your problem.
no child can learn how to occupy herself if her parents don't leave her alone to figure it out.
boredom is a great motivator.
no intelligent being needs other intelligent beings to stimulate it every moment.
turn off the tv and tell that child to entertain herself.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Well, I can empathize. I have a 6-year old son. He's usually been pretty good about entertaining himself, but we've been going through a "Mom, I'm booooorrrrrrred" phase lately. I try to set him up with a lot of playdates, but it's not always possible. And as for playing make-believe with him, I can usually tolerate 15-20 minutes before all the things I have to do start piling up in my mind.

Somewhere I read that it's OK to let your kids get bored. Boredom often breeds creativity. Usually, if left to his own devices long enough, my son will invent some new activity and suddenly he's occupied for a half-hour or hour.

His favorite "open-ended" toys are Legos, Magna-tiles, a tent set that we can put-up/pull down quickly for an instant fort, various costumes and, of course, markers and paper.

One other thing I'll sometimes do is set the timer and play make-believe with him for 10-15 minutes, then when the timer beeps tell him I have to go do whatever chore. Those few minutes of play together can usually spark him to play on his own for a while after I leave.

Best of luck! My kid would happily spend the whole day in front of the TV too if I let him!

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answers from Los Angeles on

My oldest (6) daughter likes to play on her own, even though she has 2 sisters :) Her favourite thing is to role-play with her dolls. Often it's Barbies or Polly Pockets. This can keep her busy for hours! I can hear her having 2 or 3 way conversations between her dolls - it's cute :)

Ask her if there are any solo toys she'd like to have, but doesn't. You may be surprised that she picks something out herself and it keeps her occupied. And what about crafts? Jewelry making, hand sewing? Something that she can do on her own that keeps her mind busy too.

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answers from Minneapolis on

My almost 11 year-old daughter is an "only" child in that her brother and sister are 30 & 27. She's gotten better over the years at entertaining herself. I make sure she has art supplies, books, and toys that she likes. She has developed a great imagination and will spend an hour with a cardboard box, markers & string.... We have a cat, and other small pets.

Her after school routine is snack time/short down time, 4 days per week a lesson (circus, karate, piano, karate), dinner, homework, short free time, reading, bed. There's not a lot of free time on weekdays. Weekends - no lessons - so time for whatever we feel like.

At 7, your daughter is still figuring out what kinds of things she likes, so I would suggest and encourage her to try new things. Overall, I agree that she will eventually figure out how to occupy herself. It's normal as a mom, though, to feel bad for her if she looks sad. (But I had 3 siblings and I'm sure sometimes I laid on the floor looking sad ;-)

My daughter and I do a lot of outdoors and active things together (biking, swimming, etc.), and sometimes crafts. She still would often rather play with other kids. Luckily a family with a girl her age has moved into our building, so they sometimes play together. And her older brother has cooperated and produced nieces and nephews for her to play with when possible.

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answers from Santa Fe on

Invite over a friend twice a week. My son was an only child for 5.5 years. He is very social so we had a LOT of play dates. Is she in activities? Go outside with her daily for a walk, hike, or bike ride. Are there neighborhood kids? Pick up cool craft kits or supplies from a craft store. Bake with her. Do a project together.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

My son is 7 and an only. We spend a LOT of time in pretend play. I have just let him know that he does NOT decide what my 'guys' say and do, only his. We do read together. We also spend a fair amount of time playing outside - throwing a ball, building snowmen, playing driveway hockey, etc. He also will build lego, draw, color and build things on his own. We don't do tv - it means there is more time to fill but it also means there is ZERO whining about when he can watch.

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answers from Washington DC on

Well, right now my DD is making up an elaborate story with her toys and mostly orbiting me. If you can afford a cheap camera that takes video, you might encourage her to make her own movies. If she won't play on her own and you're busy and you can't invite a friend, then maybe make a jar of things to do when she is bored and have her go pick one. I also agree that you can say, "Well, want to help?" My DD has her own apron and many times wants to stir or measure or whatever and I let her do what she can. I don't let her chop (at 4) but she can move ingredients to another bowl. I once sat with my then-8 yr old SD and we threw socks at each other in a mad game to see who could make the most matches (she won). If you are doing work at the table, can she join you and do her HW then? And, sometimes, she will lay on the floor and you need to ignore it.

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answers from Dallas on

I have two kids pretty close in age so I don't have specific advice for single kiddos. But I do think 1 hour a day of independent play is very important. I made "quiet time" boxes-one for each day of the week. She doesn't get the activities in the boxes unless it is her quiet time. We set the timer and she plays happily for the hour by herself. I put puzzles, tangrams, lacing cards, play dough, coloring books, paper dolls, sticker books, Legos, etc... This could buy you some time to get your work done.

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answers from Minneapolis on

Make sure her toys are open ended toys. If she just has a lot of electronic toys or plastic junk she is less likely to create new, fun ways to use them.

Invite her to help with household tasks as other people have mentioned.

Think about making a connection with some older folks, like nursing home residents (or if she has grandparents) and have her decorate little picture books or cards to send to them. Let her get out paints, markers, whatever.

Visit Lakeshore Learning and get some collage supplies, let her go crazy with glue, feathers, gems, colored pasta, whatever.

Sit down with her and make a "boredom" jar. Write ideas for different activities on slips of paper. Then she can pull one out. Some might involve some help from you but she can be initiating and taking charge.
Ideas for a few of the slips:
Make 2 sock puppets and plan a short play
Put on some music and dance
Make a fort with pillows and blankets
Use toothpicks and glue to make a piece of dollhouse furniture
Make cookies
Go outside and look for cool cloud shapes

Do you live somewhere she is able to go outside without you? My son spends an hour or 2 outside on his own in our yard each weekend day and has since he was 5yo. He builds snow forts, makes snowballs, rides his bike on the driveway, swings and climbs on his play set, has make believe battles, explores, etc.

My son is 9 and an only child. I have been very fortunate that he hates watching TV or playing video games. He will spend hours setting up toy soldier battles, building Lego minifigures, running around outside in a cape with a toy sword in hand directing his imaginary forces in battle, and endless other make believe games. He and I certainly spend a chunk of everyday doing an activity together (Snap Circuits, Magic School Bus Science Kits, board games) but he still spends most of the day entertaining himself. He usually gets together with a friend for about 3-4 hours each weekend.

After school routine:
He doesn't get off the bus until 4:30 so it is a short amount of time
Have a snack
Play for 30-60 minutes (he usually does Legos or hangs out outside)
While I cook dinner he does homework at the dining room table (spelling and math usually)
Dinner and help clean up the kitchen
Finish homework if not done
Free time (he sometimes does a workout in our basement "gym" with his dad or plays more Legos, a board game, reads, a little Angry Birds on the Kindle or watches a video)
Bedtime at 8pm, he reads until 9pm (or later if I don't catch him and get him to turn lights out)

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answers from New York on

You don't mention if there are any pets in your house? Would you consider adopting or fostering a dog or cat? Sometimes another live body in the mix makes for an excellent companion.

Good luck to you and yours,
F. B.



answers from Rapid City on

lol I would have thought you were talking about my 6 year old granddaughter when she comes and stays with me to a point. She loves games and we play a lot of them. She also likes to dictate the play when we have the doll house out, telling me what my doll should say and do. She doesn't do that as much with her cousin or friends she plays with as much as she does with me. I keep a lot of art and craft supplies around and if the grandkids get board, we always have fun making something or even finger painting.

Your daughter is old enough to help you with your house work and she could find it just as fun to help daddy fold clothes or dry dishes, even dust because she is doing it with you. I loved helping my dad.

Setting up a schedule for her might help also. Show her a chart on how the time will go. Schedule her craft time, game time, reading time and time for her to play by herself. Let her earn her TV time by doing the things in her schedule. If she lays on the floor looking sad, she doesn't earn her TV time. For each of the scheduled activities she does, she should get a coin or coupon for 15 minutes of TV. She may balk at it for a bit but she will see that it will help her become independent and accomplished.

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