Plugging the Meter – why playing with your kids will actually help them play by themselves

Free-range parenting or idle parenting is all about leaving the kids alone to play, experiment and experience their childhood without adult interference. Idle parenting is also about leaving the kids alone so that parents can have more quality time that isn’t always co-opted by the kids. (Because, in reality, what caregiver of a child doesn’t wish they had just a few more minutes on their own!) In theory, this is something worthy striving for, but in practice we all know that children won’t play by themselves every minute of the day. So, I’ve stolen a trick from The Happiest Toddler on the Block called ‘plugging the meter’.

When you park your car at a meter, you only have so much time that you can leave your vehicle. After, let’s say two hours, you need to go back to the meter to put in more money. Harvey Karp, author of the Happiest Toddler on the Block, suggests that kids are sort of the same – they can only play for so long by themselves and then they need your time. While Karp expounds this trick for toddlers, I think it is applicable for most children.

So, we’ve found that playing with The Bear, or even Banana, earns us extra time. Making the effort (plugging the meter) to spend half an hour playing with The Bear often earns us close to an hour that she is capable of playing by herself. And playing with The Bear helps her learn new angles to a game or discover different ways of playing with a toy.

Is it so bad to come up with strategies so that children can play better by themselves? Nope. In fact, most research will tell you that independent play is part of the healthy development of a child and maybe even increases their IQ and EQ. (More to come next week when I review the book, Einstein Never Used Flashcards.) And making room for independent play reduces the pressure that parents often feel to entertain or organize activities for their children all day long.

So, plug the meter in your house. Play with your kids and then tell them that they need to play by themselves for a while. Then, put your feet up. It’s okay!

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1 Response to “Plugging the Meter – why playing with your kids will actually help them play by themselves”


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