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The Family Project: Help son, 5, play independently

Q. My five-year old son can’t play independently. He thinks it’s my job to play with him since he is the only child. He won’t do anything alone except watching TV. I am exhausted and battle to get everything done because I spent so much time with him. I feel guilty if I force him to play alone. Help!

Referring to the first part of the question, panelist Chad Stefanyak said, “It’s not that the boy can’t play by himself. He’d rather play with mom. The five-year-old has her wrapped around his finger, and has manipulated her into feeling guilty. Guilt is the one thing getting in her way.”

“The mom is afraid to hurt her son’s feelings by leaving him alone,” panelist Denise Continenza said, adding, “But teaching children to handle their emotions is exactly what we need to do so when they get out in the world they won’t be crushed.”

“The mom is trying to protect her child,” panelist Wanda Arroyo-Mercado said, adding, “But she needs to know that children need to socialize, and that play is a learning tool.”

Arroyo-Mercado said that there are games and activities in kindergarten that help students to learn to play and think independently, and the mother might want to use some of game and activities at home so that the boy will be better prepared when he starts school.

“The five-year-old’s world is basically his mom,” panelist Mike Daniels said, adding, “If mom can create another world for her son, a space with creative tools like puzzles and crayons and safety scissors, she would be introducing a new way of life for the boy. It will take some time, though.”

Panelist Pam Wallace said that at first the mother could work in the same room where the boy is playing. Then she can gradually introduce the space where the boy can work alone, and at longer periods of time as he adjusts to the new situation. “Begin with five minutes and go from there,” Wallace said.

“Give him things to do, and set boundaries,” panelist Erin Stalsitz recommended.

“The boy should be enrolled in some kind of pre-school or other kind of programming,” Stefanyak said, adding, “Teachers can observe and determine if his behavior only involves the mother. They can also help provide resources, if needed, to deal with any continuing problems.”

This week’s panel: Pam Wallace, program coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Denise Continenza, extension educator; Chad Stefanyak, school counselor; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo, former teacher and school administrator, Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, and Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh Children & Youth.

Have a question? Email: projectchild@projectchildlv.org

The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.

The Times News, Inc., and affiliates (Lehigh Valley Press) do not endorse or recommend any medical products, processes, or services or provide medical advice. The views of the columnist and column do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Lehigh Valley Press. The article content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health-care provider, with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.