In this article:
- How do you encourage toddlers to play independently?
- How do I get my 2 – 3 year old to play independently?
- Why a child need to learn to play solo
- How to Know if Your Child is Ready for Playing Alone
- Here are 7 Steps to Encourage Your Toddler to Play Independently.
- Is it OK for toddler to play alone?
- Why does My 2 Year Old Follow Me Everywhere?
- When do Toddlers Start to Play by Themselves?
- Related articles on Toddler Activities
- 7 Ways to Encourage Toddlers to Play Independently
How do you encourage toddlers to play independently?
Toddler tends to get associated with clingy phase, or get popular with terrible twos and threes.
But it’s not always the case, not all the time, and there IS something you can do to ease the pain a little.
Being able to play independently is an important toddler development milestone. Bonus: You get a few minutes to relax, or slash that to do list!
You as a parent, can help by encouraging (and facilitating) them to play some alone time.
How do I get my 2 – 3 year old to play independently?
In a gist, here’s how to train your toddler to play independently;
- preparing a safe play area,
- choosing better toys (open-ended, multi uses),
- making a routine,
- teaching boundaries,
- and even, by doing LESS for your toddler during the play.
Read on for more elaborate explanation.
Why a child need to learn to play solo
Yes, spending time to do things together with your child is still important for strengthening the parent-child bonding.
But letting them learn to play alone, or to “play solo”, without much involvement from you, are as much needed for their development.
Play itself is vital for a child’s need to support their development.
And when they’re playing on their own, they’re also gaining curiosity, autonomy, and problem solving skills, according to Stephenie Gillingham, a professor or early childhood education at Sheridan College, Ontario.
A toddler who’s learning to play solo is actually learning to stretch their creativity muscle, train their imagination, and broadening their exposure into the surrounding real life. It is like work, experiment, and learning processes rolled into one.
How to Know if Your Child is Ready for Playing Alone
Your toddler will actually provide clues that he is ready for unaccompanied free play.
Gillingham mentioned that some clues could be when you noticed those moments when he is engaged and doing something on his own that allow you to step back a little.
She suggested you may step back by simply moving into different seat, and then slowly try to sit further across the room.
Here are 7 Steps to Encourage Your Toddler to Play Independently.
1. Prepare a Safe Play Area
This basically means providing them with an area they can play safely and being comfortable with.
No you don’t need to set up a designated playing area, play room, or play pen.
This can be any room in your house as long as it’s clean and safe for them, and have some toys available.
I’d usually make sure there’s enough childproofing in there, .e.g no breakables/electronic devices within reach, and enough floor space .
Now let’s talk about the toys, or “toys”, next.
2. Prepare the Right Toys
Some food for thoughts about the right toys;
- It doesn’t have to be actual toys.
It can be an every day object, like paper cups, toilet paper roll, containers, plastic spoon or tong, you get the idea.
- Simple and open-ended toys are usually good option, to develop their imagination and fine motor skill.
Open-ended means, the toy can be used in multiple ways, instead of only to be played in one kind of game.
The kids can stack them, create some “castles”, sort by colors or shape, transfer from one basket to another, etc.
- As much as possible, choose passive toys – those without battery or programmable features.
3. Start by playing or doing it WITH them
If your child is not used to playing alone before, you should start by doing the activity with them. Play with them.
Then once they seem to be enjoying it, gradually reduce your involvement.
Read your own book while sitting beside your child playing. Or bring your planner to write in.
Let your child see that it’s ok when mommy does her thing and he does his own thing too.
4. Let the mess happen
Your toddler is naturally curious about how things work.
It means they may want to see what happen when they destroy that tower blocks. Or pulling out the tissues from the box.
As long as nothing would potentially harming, let them explore.
Ok, still with me? Read on….
5. Minimize interruptions and instructions (from you)
Again, don’t be too quick to correct they way they play.
The more we do (or toys do)…
- the less our child does, and
- the more our child thinks she needs us (or toys) to do for her.
Remember what I mentioned about “passive toys” in point 2 above?
6. Make it a routine
Set aside time every day to let your toddler play alone. Slowly they’ll get familiar with the idea of hanging out in the room doing their own thing.
You can also let them choose 1-2 toys or activity for that day.
Rotate the toys too, don’t give out everything.
Better still if you can put the rest out of their sight. So the next day or two they can get to play with “new” toys.
7. Practice and Teach Boundaries
Show your child that they can play by themselves while you’re doing something else.
Let them know when you need to do something else.
When your toddler is learning to play alone while you are slowly moving away, explain to them.
For example, if you’re slowly moving away and read your own book, tell them “Mommy will read a book over here, okay.”
Or when you’re going to get drink from the kitchen, let them know that mommy is getting a drink and will be back in a while.
But make sure you’re back after a while.
Build their confidence that it’s ok to be alone for a while. That they can trust grown up when they say they’ll be back after a while.
Is it OK for toddler to play alone?
What do you think?
Well, it depends……
In short, yes and no, depending on your toddler’s age.
First off, we have to remember the definition of toddler is a child older than 1 year old, until about 3 years old.
But, it’s still possible to train a child to play independently as early as around 8 months old. This is usually the phase when a child sees him/herself as a separate individual from their mother.
Sure, depending on your comfort level, your 8 months old might be ok if you left him for toilet break or getting a drink or so.
But for safety concern, try to be within her/his sight and offer words of encouragement every once in a while. This is to help them build their sense of security too.
As the child gets older, you can retreat to the other side of the room or leave it entirely for short periods of time.
Why does My 2 Year Old Follow Me Everywhere?
Toddlers is a phase where attachment to their parents is one of the most important thing. Toddlers feel secure knowing mommy and daddy are there and available for them.
It is part of toddler’s love language.
Toddlers love to explore, and excited about new things. And they will want to show the new thing to you, or share their joy with you.
They’ll do that by following you around. They would want you to look at what they’ve found, showing you all the thing (that you’re already know about!).
When do Toddlers Start to Play by Themselves?
Usually the affecting factor is your child’s age or developmental stage. The older a child is, the longer he’ll be able to play alone.
The same article from Parents.com above mentioned for example, at 6 months, a child may be content to play alone for around 5 minutes; at 12 months, for 15 minutes; at 18 months, about 15 to 20 minutes; and at 2 years, for about half an hour.
Time spent playing independently usually gets longer as kids grow older. But the duration and ability to concentrate will be very unique to the child.
And, don’t get too bogged down with the number of minutes here.
If it’s a skill that’s just developing, or an activity that’s just piqued the child’s interest, then a couple of minutes at first might be the thing you would expect.
Relax, accept the process, and let them learn.
Once they’re mastering the new skill or activity, you’ll likely see your toddler being able to sit longer, engaging in things.
Ready to encourage the toddlers to play independently?
Sometimes, it’s us who didn’t let go enough. Parents nowadays are bombarded with constant information of how to do parenting right.
Sometimes it’s too much that it builds insecurities within ourselves; we’re feeling we’re not good enough as parent, if we didn’t do ALL the things.
We forget that our children need to learn to be on their own.
Try it, and remember it takes practice…
Related articles on Toddler Activities
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