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As a clinical psychologist, published author, and mother to two cheeky young children, I get it. I’ve spent YEARS researching and filtering through the noise online, so you don’t have to.
I know you want to help your child play independently more and more, am I right? Well, in this video I break down 5 simple tips to help promote independent play. I let you know exactly what you need to consider if you want your child to feel comfortable with solo play. I also include a step-by-step guide to doing this process gradually and with love.
In today’s video, we’re going to be talking about all things independent play. It is Play Challenge Week, where every day this week we are dedicating one-on-one time to playing with our child. Maybe by this point, you’re like, “Dr. Jazmine this is great and all, but when do I get a break? I am overwhelmed. My child is always clinging on to me asking to play, and I feel so guilty. How do I get a break? Jazmine, please help!” Well, if this sounds like you don’t worry, mama, I got you. Go ahead and give this video a thumbs up, and let’s get on into it.
Here’s the thing to remember about independent play: it something that happens gradually. Around six months when they’re an infant, they might be able to play for a couple of minutes at a time, maybe five minutes. Then when they’re around 12 months old, we’re starting to look at maybe 10 minutes of independent play. It’s really not until they’re toddlers two to three years old that we’re looking at 30 minutes or more of independent play. This is something that happens very gradually, and it’s something that takes practice. It’s also something that is dependent on their environment and your child’s temperament.
There are different factors that go into this, but I just want you guys to keep in mind that it increases with age. It’s also dependent on temperament, you, and the environment. That’s what I’m going to focus on today, because that’s what you have control over. Let’s get into the tips on how you can encourage independent play.
I want you to take inventory of the toys you already have. I want you to ask yourself, are these active toys, or are these passive toys? Now let me break down the two and explain why we want more passive toys than active toys. Active toys are like toys that light up: they sing, they have music, they’re more educational toys. I’m thinking of all of the little toys, the electronics, anything that kind of entertains your child. They press the button and then things light up. They just sit there and look at it. Versus a passive toy is a toy that only is activated by your child playing with it. Those passive toys are the ones that are like the wooden blocks, spoons, the cardboard box, the pots and pans, the dolls, the Magna-Tiles, and the Lego’s. All those toys that your child can look at it, but until they use their imagination, innovation, and creativity, then the toy does not activate. That’s why you want to take inventory. It’s not to say active toys should be banned from their house. Don’t do that. There is a time and a place for those. If we’re thinking about increasing their ability to do independent play, we want to have a lot of opportunities for them to play with passive toys. That’s where imagination and creativity are sparked. That’s tip number one.
Make sure that you’re engaging in one-on-one play every day with your child, because this actually increases their ability to then engage in their own independent play. That’s why The Play Challenge is so important. That’s one of the big reasons why I am so passionate about play. When you’re talking to those connected with you, when they feel like that they have that one-on-one connection and bond during the day, then they’re more confident. They’re more at ease. They’re more comfortable being on their own. Don’t forget the importance of one-on-one daily play throughout the day. If you can’t, that’s okay. Five to ten minutes of play per day is enough, but if you find that they’re struggling with independent play, you might need to increase your one-on-one play just a little bit.
This one is really important. Grab your note pad, and write this down! I want you to be mindful of your role during play. What happens is if we get into the cycle of playing for our child, entertaining our child during play, then when they’re on their own, they’re gonna be the board. They’re not going to know what to do. They’re not going to feel as confident in their ideas. I want you to be very clear on your role. Your primary role during play is to be the observer. Too often I see parents, and I’m guilty of this too, we start to do that one-on-one play, we take over, we’re asking questions, and we’re playing for our child. We are just getting too involved and not taking a step back. That actually decreases their ability to play independently. Be mindful of that. Take more of an observer role. Remember this: if you’re doing anything during play, follow your child lead! Follow their lead! Go where they go. You sit down. You plop yourself down, and then you just observe. You go with the flow, and you go with what they’re doing. Sit back, hold your questions, hold your comments, and just listen. Do more of the listening than the talking. That will increase their confidence! That will increase their imagination and their self-esteem, and their ability to play on their own, which is what we want.
Make sure that your play space is completely baby-proof. I like to call it the “YES” space. Maybe you’ve heard of that. You want to create “yes” spaces, instead of “no” spaces. Instead of constantly being like, “No, get out of there! No, don’t touch that! No, that’s an outlet! No, get off of there!” We want to create spaces in the home, and it doesn’t have to be this big elaborate room, it could be a small area, but an area in the home where your child can completely roam and explore freely without us having to be like, “NO! NO! NO! STOP! QUIT! DON’T!” That really interrupts their play. They’re less likely going to be engaging in independent play, if we have to be the supervisor and the monitor all the time. Create “yes” spaces in your home.
I’m going to break down the gradual process that needs to happen in order to encourage independent play. Remember, this is not something that’s going to happen overnight. It does take some practice, and it does take some intentionality. Here’s the gradual process: You’re going to sit down with your child and begin to play with them. Remember, you’re the observer in this situation. You’re going to observe, maybe look for natural breaks to add in some comments, smile, and laugh, but you’re going to want to follow your child’s lead.
Then as they get more comfortable and as a little bit of time passes, then you can slowly move away. Now, this is very slow and gradual. We’re going to slowly move away. Maybe you’re on the other side of the room. You can play a little bit and watch what they’re doing. You’re still in the room, but maybe you grab a magazine or you grab a book and you start to do your own thing, while they play and you are in the same room. Get them used to that. Spend a couple of minutes in that. Maybe even a couple of days, if this is going to take more practice, but you want to practice being farther away from them while they engage in play.
Then you say something like this, “Okay sweetie, I’m going to run to the bathroom real quick. or “Okay. I’m going to go grab a cup of water” whatever it is. “I’m going to go check on something.” You give them a heads up, and you make your separation very brief. One to two minutes, and then always come back when you say you are, so they’re not looking for you, wondering where you went, and feeling like they can’t trust. If they follow you in protest, that’s fine. Just know they weren’t ready yet for that separation. That’s okay. You just keep practicing that. You do it slowly and gradually. Keep practicing, going away and coming back, going away and coming back, just so that they get used to the separation from you. They will also get used to playing on their own.
Keep in mind too, when we’re talking about independent play, it also looks a lot like them being in the same room while you’re doing things. It’s not about sending them to their room or sending them to another room out of sight. It’s based on attachment is theory. It’s based on our natural survival instinct. A lot of times, especially when we’re talking about the little ones younger than two, they’re going to want to be close to us. That’s where they feel the safest. Keep that in mind that it’s okay for them to want to come to be near you, want to know where you’re at, and want to keep their eyes on you. They can still engage in independent play while being in the same room.
I hope these tips were helpful. Go ahead and check out some other videos that I have. I have a whole tantrum playlist, and a recent video on how to handle aggressive behaviors that you might want to check out.
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As a clinical psychologist, published author, and mother to three young children, I get it. I’ve spent YEARS researching and filtering through the noise online, so you don’t have to.