Encouraging Independent Play

As your kids get older, it’s important to encourage them to have independent playtime. This helps them become more self-reliant and creative, and less dependent on their parents; teaches them to think on their own; and has even been shown to improve focus. Megan Carolan, Director of Policy Research at the Institute for Child Success, says, “Play is one of the things that can build all the skills and tools necessary for kids to grow into successful and sufficient adults.” Encouraging independent play doesn’t have to be intimidating; here are a few tips to make the experience successful for everyone!

Toys Matter

Purchasing toys that are age-sensitive is very important. If you get something that your toddler can’t play with, it’s going to be hard for them to keep their focus on playtime. This goes for items that might be suited for younger ages, too. You don’t want to bore them. 

Listen to Their Interests

Along those same lines, listen to your child’s interests. If they don’t outright say what they like, pay attention to their cues. What don’t they enjoy, and what seems to put a smile on their face more often?

Don’t Over Involve Yourself During Playtime

This one is tough. It’s natural as a parent to want to control the scene a little or engage in playtime with your child, but at some point you’ll need to hand the reins over to your little one. Let them take lead in the story of the army men and cowboys or at tea time. 

Start Young

It’s never too early to start introducing independent play time or separation. Always having your child with you can make it harder if you wait too long, leading to separation anxiety. According to one article, starting quiet, independent play around five months old is ideal. At that age, put your baby on a blanket or in a jumperoo and allow them to bounce around, roll, and crawl on their own for a little bit each day. When they start sitting up without assistance, you can place them in a playpen for longer durations and introduce more toys as they get older. 

Creating a Space

This is another key part of the process. Similar to a time-out corner or chair, creating a space that has positive connotations for kids will help them want to be there when it’s time for independent play. This space can be an area of a living room or even their bedroom. 

Setting a Time

We’ve already talked about how routines offer security and stability with children. Try to be consistent with independent playtime each day. You will want to do it during a period where they are not overly tired or hungry. Consider having independent playtime after their afternoon nap or snack. 

Responding to Tantrums

We know taking these steps doesn’t mean your child won’t act out. There are three basic categories most behavior experts agree on when it comes to labeling tantrums: the gimme tantrum, the attention-getter tantrum, and the power struggle tantrum. In the case that your moody toddler does break into a tantrum, here are a few tips. 

  1. Stay calm, or at least outwardly appear so. 
  2. Give a warning. For example, let them know how much longer they can be on the tablet before you take it away from them. 
  3. Acknowledge your child’s feelings or provide comfort. 
  4. When it comes to commands or taking charge, be brief but specific. You can also give them options. If they’re throwing a power struggle tantrum, and you can’t get them ready for bed, play “Would you Rather?”
  5. Be consistent in your approach. 
  6. Don’t give in. 
  7. Sometimes it’s best to just ignore them.

Each tantrum is going to be different, so your method for handling them might vary from time to time, but these tips will help you think about the best approach!