How Long Should a 4-Year-Old Be Asked to Play by Himself?


Though you might want to play with your 4-year-old all day, every day, that's usually not a realistic goal. You also need to wash dishes, do laundry and prepare meals, and that cuts into playtime. That's not necessarily a bad thing for your child, however. Developmentally speaking, it's good for children to play by themselves on a regular basis. You can't leave a 4-year-old to his own devices for too long, though, because he's likely to get into mischief without proper supervision.

How Much Play

  • There is no magic amount of time that dictates how long your 4-year-old should be able to play by himself. The amount of time your child will play alone depends on his personality, as well as what he's doing, according to Jane Nelsen, author of "Positive Discipline for Preschoolers." If your child is playing with his favorite toys, he might be able to entertain himself for a longer period of time than if he was looking at a book or watching a boring cartoon. Your child's mood might make a difference, too. A tired or crabby child won't be as likely to play happily by himself as a child that's well-rested and cheerful.

Benefits of Independent Play

  • While it might make your heart constrict to see your child playing alone, most preschoolers actually do like to entertain themselves from time to time. It's good for his development, too. When your child plays, either alone or with others, he's learning new things, gaining problem-solving skills and engaging with the world around him, according to Independent play also encourages your child to hone his interests, motivates him to try new things and builds his confidence. It's entertaining, too, which helps your preschooler feel happy and carefree.

Let Him Be

  • When your child isn't given a chance to play alone, he becomes fully dependent on you for entertainment. This limits his ability to be creative and find things to do without your help. When your child plays alone or with peers his own age, he is encouraged to build his imagination, according to When you always lead the play, it limits your child's chance to be imaginative and creative. As much as you want to get down on the floor and play, let him be for as long as he's willing. You'll know that's he's developing normally, and you'll get a few things done around the house, too.

Think About This, Too

  • Just because your 4-year-old is willing to play alone doesn't mean you should just leave him alone for extended amounts of time. Parental supervision is essential if you're not playing with your child. Don't settle him in his room and then go outside to mow the lawn or wash the car. Even when your child is playing by himself, you still need to be able to see or hear him so you know he's safe. This serves an added purpose of keeping him out of trouble, since it's often the child left to his own devices that colors on the walls or overflows the bathtub.


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