Some kids have an easier time playing on their own than others. My toddler daughter is a mix. It seems that when she's out in public, she immediately wants to dart away from whoever's she with to explore on her own. But at home? Not very often the case. The girl likes being played with. And while there's nothing I enjoy more on this earth than doing just that, when I'm trying to make her dinner and no one else is around, it can get tricky. Holding a wiggly toddler while draining pasta from boiling water? No.
So. How to encourage independent play in your little one (without turning them into a zombie in front of the TV)? Try these 6 tips. And if one doesn't work the first time 'round, give it another go another day. Think about all the things you can get done in 30 minutes!
1. Let them "help." This actually is something that can occupy my daughter's attention for a bit (just never seems to happen come dinnertime). Give them something (non-dangerous) to do that you normally do. My daughter is a big fan of "clean" and/or "wipe," which translates to me giving her a damp paper towel or rag to rub around on things. She's probably making things more dirty, but she thinks it's fun, and I think it's adorable.
2. Give them a drawer. Like any parent with a toddler, all of my cabinets are child-proofed with non-pointy things in the bottom drawers. But one day, after my daughter had wedged her fingers into a drawer to pull out measuring cups, I thought: "Why don't I just leave this drawer open and put 'fun' things in there?" I did, and it worked! That day. It hasn't held her attention quite as long since, but definitely not worth giving up yet!
3. Don't leave them completely! Your little one loves you and wants to be near you! Don't quarantine them off in another room if they're not big fans of playing alone. Try giving them an activity to do in the same room as you. And a little music never killed anyone.
4. Give them an old cellphone that no longer works. I am yet to meet a toddler who isn't fascinated by cellphones. But, for various reasons, it isn't ideal to give your kid your iPhone and let them do with it what they will. If you really need a few minutes to yourself, let your child play with an old phone (sans batteries) for a bit. For whatever reason, they work like magic.
5. Start the activity with your child ... then slowly wean yourself away. Don't just plop your kid in front of a toy and expect them to go to work. That's not how it works. Although they can't express themselves like adults, kids aren't dumb. They're on to you. Sit down with your child and spend some time playing with them; help them get into it. Then try walking away for a bit to get whatever you have to get done, done.
6. Give it time. All kids progress at different stages, and what your little one isn't into this week, they very well could love next week. If there's anything we all know as parents, it's that kids are ever-changing creatures.
How do you get your child to play independently?
Image via Philippe Put/Flickr