Parenting In Focus: Consider independent play

  • Wednesday, April 14, 2021 1:30am
  • Life

One part of play we seldom talk about is independent play. We are delighted when we see a young child learning to play but the independent part of play does not show up that early.

Babies are great fun to play with and we spend a fair amount of time doing it. However sometimes it is nice to have them play alone. If you are always the playmate for your child, he will have a difficult time when you leave the room, answer the telephone, or go to the bathroom.

It is to our advantage to help him learn to entertain himself for a period of time.

Your 1-year-old can play alone for 10 to 20 minutes in a crib or in a childproofed area. But most children need a little nudge to get them used to this kind of play.

Here are some nudge ideas:

1. Try to get him to play with some toys that he can do alone like blocks.

2. Play with him for a few minutes, then stop and sit there. Talk with him but do not play for a while.

3. Gradually move further away over the next few days until you sit across the room but still talk occasionally.

4. Leave the room for a few seconds. Tell him you are going away for a moment, then step into the next room.

5. When he realizes that you are gone, he may fuss a little. Do not rush back in. Tell him you are in the kitchen and will be right back. Gradually extend the amount of time you are away.

Do this multiple times so he learns that when you are not there, you will be back soon and are close by. Always be sure he is in a safe environment when you leave him unattended. You need to be comfortable or your anxiety will drive you back in before you should go back.

You need to teach him about independence by using these kinds of steps to change his response to different kinds of behavior.

He needs to get used to you leaving him alone so he can go to sleep.

He needs to learn to play with toys for a little longer.

He needs to just get used to not having you by his side.

He needs to hear your voice when you are not in the room.

He needs to experience the positive side of independence.

You also need to experience the positive side of your child’s developing sense of independence. You need to be able to answer the phone. You need to be able to do the small tasks that just never get touched — you need just a little independence for yourself.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. For more information, email to or call 360-681-2250.

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