Should we let our kid hang out by himself most of the time?

Babyboy will spend all day lying on the floor reading Captain Underpants and then creating his own silly comic books, if we let him. Yes, he interacts with his little sister, and occasionally they create fantastic narratives using Legos, matchbox cars, and plastic animal figurines. Sometimes, they work on a comic together (until they start fighting).

More often than not, however, he’s reading and creating by himself. We’ve got mixed feelings about this. Yes, it’s great to hear him sounding out words for himself and laughing out loud at author Dav Pilkey’s schoolboy potty humor. It’s nice that he’s learning how to spell things, form sentences, and dream up crazy plot lines.

But we also worry that he never asks to meet up with other kids, and he can’t tell us who he plays with in school. We’ve learned not to ask him who his friends are, because it’s painful to hear him say, “I don’t know. I don’t think anyone.” Either he’s totally not interested in socializing, or he has no friends. Or both.

The few playdates and birthday parties we’ve had with his classmates were fine, no disasters, but Babygirl is the one who interacts with people, while Babyboy ends up doing his own thing. We have playdates where the only being he engages with is the other kid’s dog. And he seems to prefer it that way.

Yes, he’s on the spectrum, and even if he wasn’t, there are kids who prefer peace, quiet, and their own company (or that of a friendly pet). Maybe that’s perfectly okay.

In a recent post, I wondered if we’re spoiling our kids by letting them have all the books they want. Here, I’m wondering if we we are or aren’t doing the right thing by essentially letting Babyboy read books and create comics most of the time.

His comics are not intellectually amazing or anything, but they definitely are an age-appropriate academic exercise. Despite all the “poopy” language, this is as good, clean, and safe as fun can get.

On the other hand, we’re supposed to be preparing him for the real world. Could he end up a famous author whose quirks only add to the legend? Hey, that would be best case scenario.

But of course, we fear that he’ll continue to have difficulty with interpersonal relationships, and end up lonely.

The few attempts we’ve made at “social” activities with his peers have ended poorly. Soccer: I haven’t had the strength to re-visit that expensive disaster in writing. Summer camp: a few days was too many. Boy Scouts: he’s still traumatized by the first big loud chaotic group activity, and we’re holding out for the smaller, family-oriented den activities, hoping those will be tolerable for him. To date, we haven’t heard of any other kids who are into what he is into.

So, we really are struggling with this. I’d be interested to hear what some of the very smart readers out there think!

A couple of days of comics by Babyboy. These are stacks of pages stapled together into “books”. We have literally hundreds stored in big plastic totes. 
“Captain Soxer Pants” 
“Captain Soxer Pants Kills Guys”
“Then a bad bad hermit crab came”
“He got it! Snatch. Pop.”
Then zombie nerds tried to attack
“But he killed him”
“Ha ha The end”

15 thoughts on “Should we let our kid hang out by himself most of the time?”

  • Helping our kids to experience things they are not comfortable with is a part of parenting but then there is the whole temperament thing. You cannot force an INTJ to become an ENFP. You can help them understand their strengths and weaknesses but I don’t think you can change them. At least that is what I tell myself… 😉

  • My 13 yo daughter is a social butterfly. Jack, at 11, has one good friend from 1st grade until now. Before that, while not on the spectrum, his teachers thought he sort of lived in a bubble (a reflection of me in my old marriage). The past two years his teachers say they have to work to keep him from spending all recess/chapel/rushing through worksheets to get to free time — reading books. If his one friend is not at his recess, he climbs inward. He’s crazy smart. He’s very sweet and empathic. Team sports is not his thing, but he’s super happy doing martial arts and piano. He worries that he doesn’t have as many friends as his older sister. I tell him I had one close friend until 10th grade, and I turned out just fine. I was a big time introvert/shy kid.

    I hope your son finds one good friend. Jack’s is a mini PeeWee Herman who is super smart and has a wonderful family. I joke that it is Jack’s third family, aside from my house and dad and stepmom’s.

    • Oh, we would love for him to connect with someone! Just one friend! Haven’t met them yet. Working on it- looking for “comic book creators” groups in the area. Got to be something…

  • My wife said that she used to play on her own all the time and resented being dragged aware from her time on her own. When she was ready she made friends. I thinks it’s all to easy, and trust me I’m guilty of this too, to try to apply NT solutions to these questions and often they just don’t apply

  • I love his books! I have 2 boys, who both choose to spend quite a bit of time reading and programming rather than asking for a lot of playdates. My observation has been that as they and their friends mature, they have become better at peaceful, relaxed interactions, and they’ve gradually asked to have their friends over more. My younger son was 8 last year, in third grade, and he’d occasionally have a friend over, but that was a big enough dose of buddy-time to last a few weeks. (I generally felt the same way about 8-year-old-boy visitors ;).) This year he’s enjoying walking to school with a friend, and they play at my house about once a week. He is happiest playing with friends in small doses, at this age when many of them are quite socially awkward and rambunctious. If you want to give your son more social interactions with peers, you might want to aim for short (half hour or 45-minute) unpressured play opportunities. If what happens is parallel play, that’s fine. My other observation is that boys are often cool with parallel play, in a way that girls think is weird. I remember being very skeptical about my brother’s friendships, because it looked to me like they were just playing video games sitting next to each other, and to me, that wasn’t “real” friendship. I remember my sister and I sharing this opinion, and my brother protesting. “If you’re such good friends, what’s his favorite color?” we demanded. We thought friends ought to talk about everything, and know lots about each others’ lives. “I don’t know. Why should I know?” he protested. Clearly, boys and girls had different standards of friendship sometimes. I think of this story when I watch my 12-year-old son play video games with his friends.

  • Thanks Lara, this is very comforting! This boy/girl difference may be contributing to our perception that there is something amiss, when, perhaps there is nothing amiss.

  • My grandson is the same age & on the spectrum. I would be so happy if he was able to do what Your son does. I think it is wonderful. So what if he doesn’t have a bunch of so-called friends! He is loved and he loves the people that matter in this life. He is obviously advanced intellectually and happy, he probably won’t spend his whole life trying to be Mister Popular–lucky boy!

  • My son is 19 and on the spectrum. He is now a freshman in college and doing very well. He couldn’t stand loud noises and crowds, so most typical “boy” activities were misery for him! It took him until high school to really make friends, and even then he mostly communicated via text and through online gaming. All I can say is it sounds like your son is doing wonderfully! Way ahead of where mine was at that age – whatever you are doing keep on doing it!

  • I have a boy and girl like you, ages 7 and 4. My boy is shy (not my girl!) but still likes play dates, although sometimes struggles in bigger groups. I think it’s important to have a balance for the kids- if your boy loves playing alone and being creative, great! Let him do that a lot of the time and then maybe occasionally, encourage him to be more social. We started small with my son- invite one other kid over for a set period of time to do a set activity. So, we’d invite another kid over for an hour to play a board game. Or ask the neighbor kids to join us for a hour baking and eating cookies. Kids who struggle to be social might be helped by having you structure the activity around something many kids like (baking, Uno, painting, riding scooters) and by limiting the time at first. I dunno- your little boy sounds like a fun kid though 🙂

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