How to Encourage Independent Play

Teach young kids to play independently to develop the creativity that comes with exploration. Let children take charge of their own amusement to build critical thinking. There are valuable developmental skills that come with letting toddlers entertain themselves, but it’s also a sanity-saver for tired parents.

Getting young children used to playing by themselves can be challenging and requires patience. Here are some steps to get you started.

Tailor your expectations to their age.

Your child’s age plays a big part in how long he can play on his own. At the age of 2 1/2, a child might be expected to play by themselves for as long as 10 minutes – and when we say play by themselves, we mean while you are still in the room.

Start with connection and stay connected.

Engage with them for 20 minutes without the interruption of phones or distraction. Once they are absorbed in what they are doing, move across the room.

Invite play.

Set the scene and kick off the game. Put out a puzzle with scattered pieces and the beginnings of a border. Start building the outline of a Legos structure and divide the remaining pieces into piles by color. Set the table for a doll’s tea. Then let the little ones take over.

Create a play zone.

Pile up pillows, blankets, couch cushions, or even leftover empty boxes. Sounds like the makings of a fort? Building a fort can play a big role in building creativity in children.

Set up a space for their mess.

Children love messy materials like paints and play dough, and you’ll enjoy their play more if you find a place to contain the mess. You may want to choose an outdoor space for this, but there are alternatives if the weather isn’t cooperating. Use an old towel as a base and layer a plastic garbage bag over it to collect paint drips.

Give your child some space.

Once you’ve made sure the play area is safe and comfortable, you can show interest from a distance. Try not to hover. Staying too close makes it easy for your child to demand attention.


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