8 Tips to Encourage Independent Play
Since our daughter is an only child, I always just thought that either my wife and I should be playing with her the whole time. I worried that she might feel lonely or feel rejected if I said ‘no’ to a request of hers.
It turns out that wasn’t exactly true. By saying ‘yes’ to her every request to play, to get toys out for her, or to otherwise occupy her, we were denying her of the confidence to do things by or for herself. Also, it’s exhausting and we just need a few minutes to sit down without having to tag each other in to be on duty.
So, after a few seminars, a book, and extensive Googling, we’ve picked up on 8 tips, which even after a couple of days of putting into action have seen some encouraging results.
Don’t Expect a Quick Change
Start small. 5 minutes at a time is a great start. Even giving you enough time to have a conversation with your spouse, or go to the bathroom is a win.
Make Sure Their ‘Bucket’ is Full
You’re not abandoning them altogether. It’s important to make sure the child feels safe, secure, feels loved, and connected to you. Give them 15 minutes of active play or reading together before making an excuse to leave for a short period.
Use a Visual Timer
Since our little one doesn’t know how to tell the time, 5 minutes is basically an abstract term. It could mean an eternity, so we’ve been using a visual timer like this one so she can see the time as it counts down.
Even if it meant stopping doing the dishes, taking the pan off the burner, or delaying getting ready for work, I said ‘yes’ to any request to play.
Saying ‘no’ encourages the little one to find other ways to entertain themselves
Set Up An Activity
Remove the options that might be daunting and a barrier for them to start playing. Trying to choose which toy to play with is a decision that might cause the child stress, so set them up with their Lego, Play-doh, or whatever they’re happiest to get on with before leaving them.
Give A Project
Ask your child to make, build, or draw something for you and to call you when they’re done. This gives them a task to work on, safe in the knowledge that you’re just a call away.
Put Away 60% of Their Toys
Keep the novelty of toys that they haven’t played with in a while by putting them out of sight and only bringing them out when they’ve exhausted the few they played with recently. Avoid nags for new toys and counter “I’m booorreeeed” complaints by bringing out something they used to love but mysteriously disappeared.
Give Lots of Praise
Nurture this new behaviour by giving lots of praise when they do it. Even if it’s for just a few minutes, start small and recognise what they’re doing. Soon they’ll have the confidence to come up with new characters in their games, develop a sense of independence, and confidence that they can do some things by themselves.