Encouraging Your Child to Play Independently

Have you struggled to balance playing and spending time with your child versus focusing on your activities? Parental guilt can ensue if you feel like you can’t spend more time with your child, but did you know that it’s essential to teach your child how to play independently?

When your child plays alone, she learns many valuable lessons she’ll carry throughout her life. Independent play helps your kid become a well-rounded individual who is happy whether in small groups, large crowds, or alone. Here are some reasons why playing alone is vital for your child.

  • Teaches Self-Entertainment. They don’t count on others for their happiness and entertainment. As your child grows, she will learn to have fun independently.
  • Fosters Imagination. The time to play alone will draw out your child’s full imagination. As you step back and watch, you’ll see how she’ll be quick on her feet and how her creativity will shine.
  • Teaches patience and resilience. Your child needs to learn that her parents cannot be at her beck and call. Knowing how to play independently and wait until someone is available to help them can teach your child patience and give her the confidence to know that she can do things on their own.
  • Building persistence and problem-solving skills. Without any adult to help or step in with suggestions, your child can experiment with her way of solving a problem and is more likely to continue trying different things until they arrive at a solution.
  • Have some quiet time. With screens and all the gadgets available, your child may not get as many opportunities to just allow her brain to be silent. Independent play can be peaceful and somehow meditative for your child, allowing her to unwind from the day.

Of course, there are benefits for parents as well. Parents need to work at home from time to time, or whenever there are chores that need to be done, it is crucial to make sure your child knows not to disturb you. You also need time to relax, chat on the phone, watch your favorite show or talk to your partner. So, how can you encourage your child to play independently?

Start gradually. Tell your child that you’ll be leaving them for a few minutes, but don’t go too far, or don’t close the door, and make sure to come back when you say you will. Do not sneak when your child is not looking, as this may alarm her and only increase your request for your attention.

Make a play space and have suitable toys. Your child will have more success in playing on their own if they’re hanging out in an area they enjoy and aren’t going to get injured in. Supply the room with toys that allow them to build and tell their own stories. Your child would more likely engage with a toy that has the right level of challenge for them. You also might need to rotate shelves to help keep their environment interesting. 

Take their play seriously. Understanding that a child’s play is their work. Respect that they are engaged and occupied even when it doesn’t look like much gives them time and space to play and allows them to be content playing independently.

Fill your child’s cup first. Ensure they’re routinely getting enough of your attention to feel “full. And that they’ve had a chance to work through any upsets or anxiety they feel so they can quickly settle into play. 

Limit screen time. The lure of screen time is understandable. It may be a sure way of achieving some independence and a peaceful time away. It would be hard to compete with watching a thrilling episode of Paw Patrol over some blocks and legos. Here’s an article with ideas on how to reduce screen time.

Praise. When the time for independent play is up, make sure you turn your full attention back to your child and show genuine interest in what they have done. Praise your child for playing independently and for whatever specific activity they have done.

Remember that this is a work in progress; if the process takes some time, do not panic. With a bit of practice and patience, you’ll be able to step into the next room and listen to your child building her world.