Encourage Your Child to Play Independently

independent play 3Recently I overheard a conversation after one of my Kindermusik classes between two moms. They were talking about what TV shows their little ones enjoyed and how much TV they allowed in their respective homes. One mom’s comment was, “Thank God for Daniel Tiger! How else could I shower?”

I want to make it clear that this is not a post about TV, screen time, or how much/little I think your child should get. That is a personal choice that you need to make for your family. However, if you would like to cut down on screen time, but still be able to, say, shower in peace, then read on! Because this post is all about how to encourage your child to play independently.

Why independent play? OK, so other than parents needing to take showers, why do our kids need to play independently? Good question! It’s so important for many reasons. During independent play, children become self-starters. They take initiative, they problem-solve, they build up the confidence that comes from doing things your way.

independent playIf you have a baby, the best thing to do at this stage is to step back and allow independent play to happen. It can be very tempting, especially as a first-time parent, to want to show your baby how to do things and fix every problem for them. Show them how to roll the ball, and when it gets out of their reach, put it closer to them. Show them how to stack the blocks, and when they topple, build them back up for them. It’s a pretty natural thing, and I know that I did a lot of that when my son was a baby before I happened upon Janet Lansbury’s website (where a lot of this info is coming from). But what is lost when we show a baby how to do something is the joy of discovery. And the ten minutes of focused play that it took to get to that discovery! Check out this video of a baby reaching for a toy. Just remember that it’s all about the journey, not the destination.

If you have a toddler, and your toddler is not accustomed to independent play, it might take a bit of work. But I promise, it will be worth it for both of you!

  • Start with just a few minutes at a time, and then work your way up.
  • Set up an enclosed area of the house that is completely baby/child-proofed. This is your child’s “yes” space, because in this space, it’s their rules.
  • Put a few open-ended toys (blocks, balls, pieces of cloth) in this space. Not too many, because too many options can become overwhelming for a young child. And make sure they are all at a level that the child can reach.
  • Then just sit back and enjoy the show!
  • DO NOT: instruct your child on what to do or how to do it
  • DO NOT: intervene unless your child asks for help (in which case, help them by asking questions that will lead to a solution instead of just giving them the solution)
  • DO NOT: worry if your child plays with something the “wrong way”. There is no wrong way in play!
  • Remember, we are in charge of so much about our children’s lives. Let playtime be the one time that they get to make all the decisions. That’s why your child’s play area is called his/her “yes” space!

independent play 2Once your child is used to playing independently, you can start leaving the room (although sometimes it’s just fun to watch them play!). If your child feels confident, intrigued, and inspired in his/her “yes” space, you will get lots of minutes (maybe even hours!) of contented independent play. How wonderful for both of you!

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