6 Simple Ways to Support Your Toddler's Independent Play

by ParentCo. October 04, 2023

Toddler  and toys in living room

Nothing can be better than sitting back sipping on coffee while your kids play nicely, all on their own. Fostering solo play is vital to the growth and development of your little one.

It doesn't mean you're slacking or ignoring your kid to get things done. Independent play is good for, well, everyone.

Your child wants to explore, he wants to rifle through that toy bin. Let him. On his own. I'm not saying leave the room, just watch from a comfortable distance. Sure, he may glance over and smile at you, or show you a toy he found, and that engagement is wonderful.

But something amazing happens when kids learn to play alone – they become their own friend. Do not think of this as a sad thing, either. We all want our kids to have friends, of course, and they will. But being able to be your own best friend and making good use of your own time is a quality we all want in ourselves, as children, and adults! Teaching this life skill should begin at a very young age.

Yes, even your baby can play independently. It's true, and you can start supporting his independent play right now! Peel that sweetness off of you and give your little one some play time – without your constant involvement. Place her on the play mat, throw down some toys that will catch her eye, and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised. If she cries, let her cry for a few minutes before picking her up, and try again the next day.

It may get easier or harder as your baby gets bigger. You know your kid best. Some are clingy, others have no issues rushing off to play with their toys on the floor without so much as a glance back in your direction. However, all kids can, and should, learn to play independent of their mommy, daddy, or caregiver.

If your child is difficult, and constantly begs for your attention, they can still learn to love to play alone, without a shred of guilt in your heart. You just have to figure out what will grasp their attention and take them into that marvelous world of imagination! Here are some tips:

1. Create a fun bin.

From Legos to coloring to stickers to cars, the possibilities are endless. Get some super fun, easy-to-use items and place them in a colorful bin. Use this fun bin only for independent play, that way your little one has something to look forward to. Announce independent play time and watch their excitement grow!

2. Start with baby steps.

You can begin by sitting at the table together and slowly, with each independent play session, move yourself to a chair further away, then over to unload the dishwasher or, better yet, take a load off for a few minutes.

Stay within eyesight, but try to not engage too much. Give them space to enjoy their own time playing alone. If they're reluctant, set a timer, but if you see them start to drift off into their own imagination, quickly turn that timer off and relish in their ability to play alone.

3. Turn the television and tablets off.

Independent play is not successful with screens on. Leave them off and, instead, have plenty of enjoyable toys at your child's disposal.

4. Stop helping.

If their block tower keeps falling and they start in on a temper tantrum, try making up a song about rebuilding, or find another positive way to encourage them to try again. Sure, there will be times when you can help your child, but try to have your little one solve his problem on his own first.

5. Don't tell your child what toy to play with, or how to play.

Create a play space with different options. Action figures, blocks, Legos, cars, trucks, kitchen play, coloring, dress-up, riding toys, animals, or puzzles. If they choose to play with each and every station and make a mess in the process, good! Clean up can be dealt with later – do not stress the mess!

6. Don't interrupt!

I'm guilty of this one. Too often I watch my children play independently, listening to the conversations their “guys” have – like the time Captain America didn't want to go to Hulk's house because Hulk didn't have any beer....I know! I thought Hulk would always have beer too! Whoops, don't say a thing. Kids can feel embarrassed that someone is listening to them as they use their imagination. And interrupting only snaps them out of their own heads and back into our reality. Let them stay in their own made-up world a while.

Once your child learns to play alone, you'll both be happier. It's a win-win – one you should never feel guilty about. Remember: kids need independent play time to develop self-reliance, creativity, and problem-solving skills.



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