Should I play with my toddler or let him play on his own? Activities

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child playing blocks with parent
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Sometimes, we overanalyze our own parenting. If we play with our kid, we wonder if we're hovering. If we don't play with our kid, we feel a bit neglectful. So we asked experts and moms whether they're more for guided play or independent play. The answers were mixed, and the truth is, the type of play should be mixed too.

Do Both

"Both [playing with a parent and playing independently] are equally important. When playing together, let your child do things and talk about it. And also expand on it. For example, if your child is pretending to feed a bottle to a baby doll, expand on that and say, 'Time for the baby to go night night!' Take what the child is interested in, and teach them another step to expand on the activity.

"On the flip side, it's good to have kids play on...

"Both [playing with a parent and playing independently] are equally important. When playing together, let your child do things and talk about it. And also expand on it. For example, if your child is pretending to feed a bottle to a baby doll, expand on that and say, 'Time for the baby to go night night!' Take what the child is interested in, and teach them another step to expand on the activity.

"On the flip side, it's good to have kids play on own. It helps them with problem-solving and also helps them learn to entertain themselves. They can use their creativity to find their own activities." -- Heather Marenda-Miller, MS, CCC-SLP and Amy Wilhelm, MS, CCC-SLP, licensed and certified pediatric speech-language pathologists with Social Scouts, Los Angeles

Playing Together Promotes Learning

"Get down on the floor with your child, follow their lead, and expand upon it. When you play on their level, they will be more engaged, demonstrate a longer attention span, and learn from your model.

"You can initiate play scenes, narrate their play, and expand upon their utterances. Your child learns an incredible amount from play and the very best play is interactive!

"Play is also a wonderful time to act out difficult situations or new...

"Get down on the floor with your child, follow their lead, and expand upon it. When you play on their level, they will be more engaged, demonstrate a longer attention span, and learn from your model.

"You can initiate play scenes, narrate their play, and expand upon their utterances. Your child learns an incredible amount from play and the very best play is interactive!

"Play is also a wonderful time to act out difficult situations or new transitions that are emerging in your everyday life." -- Molly Dresner, certified speech-language pathologist and feeding therapist, New York City

Let Kids Lead the Way

"I let my child free play. He actually leads. I figure at age 3, he can make the rules up in his world."

Solo Play Is Good for Independence

"I let both of my kids play on their own. It's amazing the little worlds their minds come up with completely on their own!"

Jump-Start Their Imaginations

"I call it an 'imagination jump start.' If my daughter is bored or lonely, I start playing with her to get things going, and she will continue to play on her own after that."

Unstructured Time Is Precious

"I let them play! Sometimes I'll suggest something, but I see this as the only time they'll have to just play whatever they want without the curriculum of school."

Let Them Play Alongside You

"I had a cabinet filled with safe pots, pans, spatulas, whisks, and spoons for my little ones to pull out and play with as I worked in the kitchen. They loved it and it kept them busy for as long as I was working in that room."

Have Quality Time Together

"Go to the park, play games, color, draw, paint, play with play dough or blocks, dig in the sandbox, go for a walk, pull them in a wagon, build a fort out of pillows and blankets, play pick up sticks, ride bikes or trikes, read some books, draw with sidewalk chalk, roll a ball, sing songs. The list of things you can do together is endless."

Boredom Can Be a Good Thing

"Sometimes it's good to let a child get bored. Boredom helps the imagination grow. I'm not saying neglect your child, but kids don't need to be entertained 100 percent of the time."

Time With a Parent Can Be Comforting

"Play with them! I usually read books or do something with my son when it's time for him to calm down. We like coloring, drawing, and doing puzzles together. He also likes helping me with cleaning."

The advice on CafeMom aims to educate, inform, and provide a range of solutions to the issues moms care about. It is not a substitute for consultation with a medical professional or treatment for a specific condition. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified professional. Please contact your health-care provider with questions and concerns.