Encouraging independent play in toddlers

kid playing independently

The best way to foster independence in children is through play. Children, particularly toddlers, become fussy when left alone. It takes time and patience to foster independent play in toddlers.

Does your baby refuse to be left alone and need you to be around constantly? Does he get bored with everything around him?

As parents, we need to have some me-time to cook or work. It is never too early to encourage meaningful independent play in your toddlers so that they can flex their muscles.

Let us see what independent play is and how you can encourage toddlers for it.

What is independent play in toddlers?

Independent play is all about playing alone for some time without interference.

Here the toddlers are in charge of their amusement, not the parents. It is okay for children to play alone when you stay within earshot. They feel comfortable and protected when you are around.

Independent play has incredible benefits for toddlers. Let’s take a look at them.

Why is it important to encourage independent play in toddlers?

  • Fosters creativity: Independent play helps children learn, imagine, make mistakes, and repeat. It is open-ended and allows children to explore and experiment, helping with logical thinking skills.
  • Develops problem-solving skills: When playing alone they will have to fetch the best solutions for their problems.
  • Boosts self-confidence: By solving problems independently, the children gain confidence. They gain control of what they do and have freedom. This makes the toddlers comfortable with themselves.
  • Makes them calm and disciplined: Playing independently is a great way to keep toddlers calm and engaged without constant guidance. They learn to be self-reliant, patient, and disciplined.
  • Develops social independence: Toddlers learn to play alone in a social environment. Even when other kids do not want to play what he wants, he can play by himself.
  • It helps them discover their strengths and make them better learners: Toddlers who can play independently are more attentive and focused. They get to know their expertise in skills when doing it on their own. It also develops concentration and mental health as they become calmer. It helps in academics in the long run.
  • Health benefits: They develop better agility, balance, and hand-eye coordination. They are less likely to be under stress and depression.
  • Parents become stress-free and squeeze in time: Parents can find time for themselves as their toddlers get engaged in play independently. They can complete their work in the meantime, like cooking, cleaning, or other stuff.

How to encourage independent play in toddlers?

  1. Create a safe play space
    • You can create a space for your toddlers where they can play freely without you interfering in their play.
    • Let them move freely around the house when they get bored with their toys.
    • They can explore drawers in the kitchen or mop the floor. Anything unsafe needs to be locked so that it cannot be accessed.
  2. Limit screens
    • Screens can be removed from the play space if not necessary. Like you can switch off the TV that diverts their attention from mindful playing.
    • Computers, tablets, and mobiles can be powered down so that your child can focus on tactile and physical interaction with things around them.
  3. Start early
    • There is nothing to feel guilty about if you allow them to play alone. Children as young as three months old can be encouraged to play independently.
    • You are working towards making your toddler a confident human who can make independent decisions in life.
    • Toddlers can struggle to play alone if they have been entertained too much as infants. You can start slowly by leaving them for 5 minutes initially and later on increase the time.
  4. Give them attention but do not interfere in their play
    • Your toddlers may want you to get involved if you have the habit of playing with them. You can initially sit silently and observe them while playing.
    • Slowly as they get occupied in their play, leave them alone for some time. The toddlers will understand that you are around and will be back after some time. This helps them to get comfortable playing alone.
    • For toddlers who struggle to play alone, you can participate in their play but allow them to take charge. Do not guide or instruct them.
    • Ensure to give your toddler undivided attention at other times of your day so that they do not crave your attention when left alone to play.
  5. Develop it as a habit
    • Children learn things when they follow a routine. Chalk out a plan to allocate some time daily to encourage independent play in toddlers. It could be morning and afternoon or as convenient for you.
    • Even if you are busy, make it part of the routine so that your toddler will start looking forward to his solo play.
  6. Provide open-ended toys
    • The best toys to encourage independent play in toddlers are open-ended toys. These toys help to engage the kids for a longer time.
      They also help to develop imaginative and cognitive skills in toddlers.
      Some open-ended toys for toddlers are magnets, Lego, Educational blocks, Pikler Triangle, Animals Life Lacing, Stacking and Free Play, kitchen set, dressing up in costumes, and art.
    • Skip the battery-operated toys as they distract the kids and do not help them to explore. They hold the attention for a short span.
  7. Offer age-appropriate toys
    • For children to be engaged in play alone, an inviting and challenging environment should be set up for them. Toddlers love to be absorbed with toys that are the right level for them.
    • Too complicated ones confuse them while too simple toys make them bored.
    • Do not fill the play space with large quantities of toys. Stash them away and introduce a few of them at a time. It makes their play interesting.
  8. Do not judge or make comments
    • Do not interrupt their play by commenting. It will shift focus from the solo play.
    • Be cautious when you choose your words. Make it easy-going so that your toddlers can get into the flow of the activities.
  9. Make it sound exciting and interesting
    • Make it sound fun and challenging to your toddlers if they lack interest in their solo play.
    • Give attention to their interests or the toys that they are attracted to.
    • Outdoor playing can also be encouraged. They can run, walk or ride cycles at their height.
  10. Ask them about their experience after the solo play
    • At the end of the solo play, do not forget to ask them how they felt.
      The kids may feel proud to show you what they have done. It will encourage them to want more time to play alone.

How long should a toddler play independently?

A 2-3-year-old toddler can play alone for up to one hour. When they begin initially, they may play for 10-30 minutes. Gradually, they will enjoy their solo play for a longer time.

Do not be disheartened if none of these work for your toddler. Nothing happens overnight.

Every child is different and reacts differently to changes around them. Initially, they will find it difficult to play alone and will not be receptive.

Encouragement and patience are key factors in making an independent play in toddlers fun. Both of you will start enjoying it over time.