“If I’m around people right now, I might bite someone,” a preschooler explained. She wanted to stay in the quiet space she had created for herself on the busy play yard, as people buzzed all around her. In the Nurtured Heart approach, this wouldn’t be a time to talk about the dangers of biting but to talk about the things in the situation that are going right. In fact, this little girl used her words so she could continue calming herself. An appropriate response might be, “Thank you for telling me you need alone time. You knew being by yourself would calm you when you were having big feelings.”
This rare insight for a very young child is one most of us can understand. If we think about it, we all know that the “stimulation” of relating to others for long periods, like at a social gathering we have to attend, can wear us down. As we mature, we have more inner resources, including the ability to mentally “check out,” when our nervous systems have experienced too many demands.
Adults often don’t realize that being in constant close contact with other people all day can also be wearing on children, especially at the beginning of school in this pandemic year of retreating to our homes for so long. We want to pay attention to how they are feeling so we don’t just drag them from one interactive activity to another.
This is especially true for children who are introverts and used to being able to dip into their own imaginations for refreshment. Introverted children take time for their real personalities to come out in a social situation, so being with people they don’t know for long periods can be more of a strain.
As busy adults, we can be role models for the positive quality of knowing when we need to be alone. Rather than ask children who are upset or grouchy after a long day what happened at school, we might ask, “Do you need some alone time?” Adults can talk about how we designate a space for self-care – about the chair we reserve for ourselves, the garden bench outside our office, or a special place in the bedroom, and encourage children to create places that replenish them. We can ask them where they go to recharge by themselves when they are at school.
We don’t put enough value on alone time in our extroverted culture, and by teaching children it’s important even when they are young, we offer them a life-long resource.