“Let there be space in your togetherness.”
~ Khalil Gibran
“Go to your room!”
As a child, did those words fill you with dread? Rage? What if all this time, going to our room was actually a blessing?
As adults, many of us already know that taking time for ourselves on a regular basis is essential for our peace of mind. It allows us a few moments a day to recharge our soul’s batteries so that we can give back to our loved ones more fully.
But committing to a regular solitude practice isn’t just for grown-ups; it’s also an essential self-esteem-building tool for children.
When kids learn to honor their deepest selves and validate who they truly are, they are more likely to face challenges and conflicts with a solid foundation of self-awareness—an understanding of what feels right or wrong to them.
Everyone in your household—individual partners and children alike—can incorporate alone time into their lives as a regular practice. Here’s how:
Make it a family affair.
Just like together time at the dinner table or on a trip to the beach, take solitude time simultaneously as a family. If there are young children in your family, be sure they are in a safe environment during their solitude practice. My three-year-old son takes his alone time in his room, with the door open. That way, he doesn’t feel too isolated, and I can keep an ear out for toppling bookshelves, smashing figurines, or potentially injurious leaps from the bed. (He is a three-year-old boy, after all.)
Make a collage.
Invite kids to find pictures of things they like to do alone and make a collage that they can hang in their rooms or wherever they take their solitude break. The collage can be used as an idea generator for what they can do with their alone time.
Another option is to use the solitude to create an art project to share later. One of the benefits to spending time alone is that we return to the world of others with the gifts we’ve had time to discover on our own. A child can take great delight in sharing her accomplishments: “Look what I did all by myself!”
Children might enjoy making a chart of rotating alone time activities. Post it in the kitchen. For example, Mondays are for reading a book; Tuesdays are for painting; Wednesday is “Write a Story” day; etc. Each child can make his own chart.
Talk about it.
Have a family discussion or circle time about the experiences of your respective solitude sessions. Talk about the ways this practice might help you in your daily life. Get specific.
When we gather with our friends (a couple who also has a young child), we often sit together for family circle time and share individual thoughts with a round of a game called “Favorites.” We each take turns naming our favorite food, animal, color, vacation place, piece of clothing or other personalized topic. Each person in the circle takes turns choosing what topic we will all share.
This exercise gives kids the opportunity to direct the circle as well as to voice their own viewpoints—opinions that often arise during time alone to contemplate them. Additionally, the children learn how to hold space for others, even if the other circle members’ thoughts are different from their own.
Keep in mind that not everyone in the family may be interested in spending time alone. To be completely honest, my son was not keen on alone time at first. He’s a hardcore extrovert. When I asked him why he didn’t like to do things on his own, he said, “Because you’re not there.” Fair enough.
If your partner or child resists, don’t force it. You can encourage a reluctant child to take part in alone time by suggesting how fun it will be to get together afterwards to share thoughts and feelings, or even to offer up what he or she has done during the time alone—a kind of show-and-tell at home.
This seemed to appeal to the social butterfly in my son, who was able to see that the goal of doing things on his own was to eventually share them with others.
This approach may not work for everyone, though. Don’t give up!
If your child still does not wish to participate, consider staggering alone times with your partner so that your child doesn’t feel left out. Encourage a non-participating child to make a chart of alone time projects anyway. Do those projects with the child while everyone else is taking time for himself or herself.
If you choose to reconvene as a family after alone time, be sure the non-participating child takes part in the discussion and/or show-and-tell. By keeping her in the loop, over time she may wish to try alone time as well.
The ideal situation is a once-a-day event where all members of the family simultaneously retire to their respective sacred spaces, recharge, then reconvene happier, healthier and more whole.
If this happens for your family, wonderful! If not, keep trying.
Solitude is a hard sell for many of us, especially those with young children. (I just told my mother the title of this article, and she laughed so hard she nearly choked on her bagel. Thanks, Ma.)
Keep in mind that the point of solitude is not to isolate ourselves, but to protect ourselves from burnout and recharge so that we can give back to our loved ones with full energy and an open heart.
As you bring a solitude practice into your family’s life, honor each member’s needs—including your own. In no time, “Go to your room” will become a household phrase of delight.
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Assistant Editor: Paige Vignola/Editor: Bryonie Wise