Dear Dr. Fournier:
I have tried to find activities for my ten-year-old son, but every time I suggest something, he says, “no.” He won’t go off to camp; he just wants to stay home.
During the school year, he has friends over some weekends and will play sometimes after school with a neighbor. But after a few days, he goes back to wanting to be alone. He doesn’t seem unhappy. He loves to tinker, loves art and builds incredible things with building sets. I know he also needs to be with other children. How do I get him out of the house?
In a fantasy life portrayed on television and in the movies, the happy family always includes a best friend – a pal, a playmate – for the kids.
For generations of TV children from Opie Taylor to the characters on the O.C., a best friend has always been close enough to share antics, adventures, and sleepovers. Beaver Cleaver could leave it to Whitey, and Angela Chase ran wild with Rayanne Graff. However, when it comes to the idea of Home Alone, the movies then tell us that a child must be left alone by accident, not by choice.
Now for a message from reality: There is nothing wrong about wanting to be alone; or enjoying it!
As parents, it’s important to listen to our children’s messages about what is important to them. Many adults wait until middle age to learn that fulfilling the need for personal and private time – and space – is OK.
Having time alone allows us to indulge ourselves, and occasionally, to discover strengths we might not know that we possess. This is a time the mythologist Joseph Campbell, famed for his Power of Myth interviews with Bill Moyers, calls a period of “creative incubation.” It is a place where you can simply experience what you are and what you might become. Many people have to take steps to re-learn how to develop this side of themselves later in life, so if you see this as a quality your child already possesses, understand that it is a gift.
WHAT TO DO
Linda, whenever your son expresses the need to be alone, set down some rules as if he were having another child over to play. Start by talking about the things he enjoys while he is alone. If he simply wants to watch television, then that’s not enough. Help your child think of the fun things he likes to do, such as painting, building, collecting rocks, or sculpting from clay. Keep the list on the refrigerator door, and as your child has “homebody days,” he may think of other activities to add to the list. This list will be more for your benefit now than your son’s in the future. It will help you accomplish three things:
1. It will help you make suggestions as to what to do on “homebody days.”
2. It will help you know the types of supplies to keep in stock around the house, such as watercolors, a tool kit or clay. These items make great gifts for birthdays or special occasions.
3. It will help you remain calm about your “homebody.” You will know he is developing his creativity, and is doing exactly what makes him happy.
Learning to rely on ourselves in times of joy and sadness is a very important quality for both children and adults. Help your child use his time alone to learn self-reliance, trust, and decision-making that are unique to his own needs. If he can develop these now, he will not be faced with this predicament later in life.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER
Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at [email protected]