"Play with me!"


I’m caring for my 4 and a half-year-old grandson frequently. We have a loose schedule; sometimes he’s in preschool, sometimes not, but we usually go to a park for an hour and a half or two in the afternoons. We are fine until we get home.

My concern is that I just don’t like playing with him. He doesn’t seem able to entertain himself. He’s used to being around several other children, either in preschool or his previous living situation, and doesn’t know how to play alone.

He wants to play cars, which I can stand for awhile, but I get really bored. I don’t recall feeling this way with my children, but I never had a four year old by himself either. The only thing that entertains him by himself is watching shows on his kindle, which I am very much against, but I’m not his parent. Fortunately he often misplaces it or it runs out of battery, and he has to do something else.

I don’t want to be mean. but I can only stand playing car games for short periods of time. I’ve helped him build train tracks, little towns, and so on, and invent scenarios which he enjoys, but I do have other things I need to do: clean house, pay bills, and so on.
Do you have any suggestions as to helping him play by himself? I raised 4 children and I don’t recall feeling like my every minute had to be devoted to the child.


video games


Games where he builds stuff up. Like lego games or puzzles. But the simpler ones because he’s so young. If he loves cars would he love building one from scratch? That will keep him busy for a while.


Are there other kids from his preschool he likes that also have an irregular schedule? Maybe you could arrange for another kid to hang out and they could play together.


You can also try audiobooks for children, sometimes that gets them to sit in one place and listen. My mother used to do that with us all the time, and we both loved it—in the car, in the living room, before bed.

Another thing that might help are sensory games they can pretty much do by themselves. I don’t know these website outside of a quick Google, so make sure you vet them first. :slight_smile:

Another thing would to be to involve him in chores, and cooking. He could help cook lunch, or tidy up. Even it it’s just stirring the pot, or putting books away.

Play dates is another suggestion, seeing other children regularly outside of kindergarten is always great!


Give him an iPad with movies on it.


I remember having a few conversations with my lonely only when I had to explain to her that I wasn’t her playmate, that I had things to do. I provided plenty of toys for her to play with. If I had chores to do, I asked her if she wanted to help me with them, or play by herself. They learn over time to play by themselves, or you get lots of help with your chores (which is a win-win).


Not a good longterm solution. Four and a half is old enough to play by himself. Boredom is good for children; say “We’ll play X or read Y in half an hour, but now I need to do Task Z.”

LittleFlower’s suggestion about getting him to help you with household tasks is also a good one. Kids do well working with adults–it makes them feel included and important.


Based on my cousin, who is an only child, she didn’t learn to play by herself until about six years old. (Maybe it was five?) But I do remember her mother one day recounting a story of absolute amazement when she found her daughter playing dolls by herself instead of tailing her around everywhere for play/activity.

It sounds like normal behavior for a young child. Self play (or being entertained by it) doesn’t develop right away.


I was surprised to read video games, and later down movies on the iPad. First I thought you were being sarcastic. I would think play has to involve creating your own rules, attempting something very different and using your hands in different ways.


To the OP, I have a nephew like this, and he happens to play a lot of video games now, but he was never good at playing alone. He has siblings but that doesn’t seem to make much difference.

I think some people just aren’t very creative; also the environment is often too tidy to be a source of interest to children. When I was young, we had all sorts of stuff to look at and try and rooms full of junk. But today, they have about two things to choose from in a room.

Try putting him on a tricycle. People don’t even let their kids do that for fear of somebody getting hurt or abducted. We used to ride on a tricycle indoors, if you can believe it, and go around the pool table.

But to the OP, you’ll probably have to find play dates for your grandson.


you can create your own rules in many video games and use your hands in different ways on different systems


There is likely one of two issues going on. Either you’ve got a kid who just lacks the initiative to come up with something to do. Unfortunately, this is pretty common these days and one of the drawbacks to daycares, schools, and camps that fill every second of a child’s day with organized activity. The solution is to give him the toys and let him work through the boredom. Try to make sure he has a variety of toys to pick from. I would avoid the screens. Eventually, he will come up with something he likes. If he’s really physical, he might need some more physical indoor toys. Do you have space for a kangaroo ball or a sit and spin?

The other thing that might be going on is that it isn’t so much that he can’t think of anything to play, but that he doesn’t feel confident without you with him. If that’s the case, tell him that you have to get x and y done, but invite him to do them with you. If you’re doing dishes, let him dry. If you’re doing laundry, let him put the stuff in the washer. 4yos can do a lot of chores. If you have to “pay bills”, (it is such a foreign idea to me that paying bills could be a time-consuming activity as for years my bills have come out of my account automatically.) you can set him up at the table next to you with some crayons.


Not video games appropriate for 4yos and the OP is baby-sitting. How many game systems is she supposed to buy?


That is a change in parenting than when I was a kid or when our son was little. Honestly, I believe this “parent as playmate” has contributed to the lack of respect shown by a certain sector of kids/teens/young adults. They saw adults as playmates, also they do not have the concept of “adults have to do things that are not fun, that is called work.”

How many moms complain that they cannot shower or even go to the toilet alone.

I can remember my mom reading to me, teaching me (homeschooled) letting me help cook or sew, showing me how to clean and launder and do repairs. Play was something that happened on my own or with other kids.

There are a million good articles out there, google will help! I’m sure the library has books as well:



the nintendo wii is appropriate for 4 year olds and is relatively cheap now


Please, do not introduce such young children to video games unless you are going to set strict limits… seeing what it did to my niece and nephew, they’ve both been playing video games since a very young age and it’s like they don’t know how to breathe without them. And whenever you take their games away from them, they throw fits and react like they’re being physically pummeled.


Yes! Duplo blocks! (The outsized Legos for little hands.)


This stuff is why kids can’t entertain themselves. Agatha is dead-on accurate in her assessment.

If a child life expert told me that the reason this particular child cannot play by himself was because he spends all his time on his Kindle, I wouldn’t be surprised.

What do you think we did before there were tablets and iPhones and video games? We played.


I agree. And I think the effect is even worse when a solitary child get’s stuck on video games at a young age. At least if there’s two or more kids playing a game together, there’s some interaction. (Although in my experience, it’s mostly high-conflict interaction.)

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