How to Teach Your Child to Play Independently

SavvyMom January 11, 2017

Parenting young children can be exhausting’€”feeling like we are with them every second of their wakeful hours. While we do need to keep an eye on them (especially those 3 and under,) we don’€™t have to be entertaining them every moment of the day.

This doesn’€™t mean that we hand over the technology. (Reminder: the CSEP advises no technology for kids 2 and under.) What it does mean is that we take the time to teach independent play. Our kids need to learn to entertain themselves. Here are the 4 steps to teaching this skill.

1. Set up your child to do an activity that they really enjoy. Reading a book, playing with blocks, trains, cars, etc. Let them know that you need to leave the room for a moment and that you know they will be just fine reading their book. Some kids will be fine with this. Others will feel concerned that you won’€™t be there. If necessary, tell your child that you will be back in 20 counts or at the end of Row Row Row Your Boat. Then, count aloud or sing the song while you are in the other room (bathroom or wherever you go). Be back when you say you will be back.

2. Notice that your child managed well while you were gone. Say, ‘I knew you would do just fine on your own. You do love to read that book.’ Don’€™t over-praise, just notice.

3. Do this every so often and gradually lengthen the time that you are out of reach With younger kids, ‘out of reach’ could simply mean you are chopping veggies at the counter or folding laundry across the room. You could even be sitting nearby reading your own book or magazine.

4. Extension. Ask your child to choose what they will do while you are reading, chopping, etc. and set them up for success. Eventually, they will be comfortable doing this on their own.

Teaching independent play helps children to learn that they are independent and capable, and that they don’€™t need technology for their entertainment.

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