Independent play for toddlers does not just help the parent get some much needed down time, but it also helps the child develop confidence, responsibility and social skills. Surprisingly enough, when a toddler learns how to play on their own they actually develop much needed behavioural skills which can be used when they go into school or play with other children.
Though encouraging independent play may be difficult at first if you have a clingy toddler, it's important to try these 10 tricks to help encourage alone time. It won't just relieve some time for the parent and/or caretaker, but it will help them grow and develop into independent children, too. So, read ahead for some inspiration as to help your child be more comfortable with independent play.
When you have games and activities put aside for the child, they're more likely to gravitate towards them, especially if they are well directed. If it's a hands-on activity such as moving rice with a spoon from one bowl to another to better their fine motor skills, this is a great activity to ask your toddler to do.
By delegating toddlers, you're teaching them that they are capable of setting goals and achieving them, even if this means just moving rice from a bowl to another. This will help get them more comfortable in finishing tasks on their own.
Toddlers love being shown what and how to do things. Even if this means bringing them along with you on a run down a park's slide. Children need directions and it helps if you demonstrate first. It's important to demonstrate how to play independently so they know that they are safe, especially if they are hesitant or clingy to play alone at first. When they see how fun it is, they will likely follow suit. So, demonstrate how easy it is to play alone and get lost in your own, independent play.
Some toddlers are easier to reason with than others. If your toddler understand more than most, explain to them how important it is to learn how to play on their own. Tell them that mommy/daddy have to cook/work/clean/tidy and it's ok for them to get lost in their own, imaginary world while the parent takes care of their own thing.
Reasoning may work if you use simple words and examples. Be empathetic to show them how important it is to be compassionate towards others- even when it comes time for independent play.
Children thrive off of schedules and it's important to block out time in the day where your toddler is encouraged to play independently. This way, they will be more aware of when to expect alone time. It's more than ok for you to block out time for them to play creatively on their own. It's actually highly encouraged. After your 15-20 minutes of them stacking blocks on their own while you answer emails, then you can jump in on the fun and play alongside your toddler. This way they know that each day they have solo time but as soon as it's up, mom/dad will be back in on the action.
Play dates are a great place for parents to meet like-minded people while getting some valuable social time. It's also a great way to introduce your young children to different personality types- both from the children and the parents. Some children actually like playing independently. And, if your clingy toddler sees this, they may learn by example. By exposing your toddler to more reserved friends, they will realize it's ok to 1 respect other's boundaries and 2 try new things.
Having a designated play space for your toddler to explore, play and learn is very important. Not only will it help you when it comes to clean up time, but it will encourage them to get lost in their own world and play independently more easily.
If you've arranged toys in your living room, then set them aside for when company comes over, this may confuse some young children. But, if you have a separate space for your child to let free, this may help with encouraging independent play.
It's important to prepare. Even if this means setting up their favourite toys and activities before your blocked out time for independent play. Independent play is easier to encourage when there are toys and activities that they enjoy the most. In order to help them keep their minds off the fact that they are absent from other friends/siblings/parents, put a line up of their favourite toys to distract them.
Always remember: encouraging independent play may not be as easy as it is for some toddlers. Toddlers are incredibly sensitive and impressionable people. This age is vital. They learn things so quickly and they change even faster. By encouraging independent play young, they will learn valuable skills that they will bring along for the rest of their lives. But, it's important for the parent/caretaker to remember to take baby steps.
It won't be an over night change and it's ok if it takes time to get them comfortable with being on their own.
If you notice your child become more and more comfortable with playing on their own, in their own, designated play space, it's ok to step away. Of course ensure you have a monitor to watch them and they're in a safe space. Make sure the room is baby-proofed and there are no toys that could be harmful. See if they are comfortable with being alone, away from the parent. This may encourage independent play knowing that they are comfortable with their parent/caretaker in sight.
Affirmations and positive reinforcement is a great habit to get into as a parent. This will help encourage independent play, too. If you are cooking in the kitchen and have their play space in sight, while you work on preparing dinner continue to tell them how great they're doing. Tell them how fantastic their dollhouse looks or how high they're stacking their blocks. Tell them how proud you are of their accomplishments no matter how small. Using encouraging words will help them realize how fantastic they truly are, even during their independent play time.