Ten tips to encourage independent play in toddlers

It is no secret that playing with your toddler has multiple benefits like enhancing language and social skills, critical thinking and brain development; but for your sanity you must teach him to play independently.

I’m not talking about sitting your toddler in front of the TV or handing him a tablet; I’m talking about teaching him how to entertain himself, and how to use his imagination. By allowing your toddler to play alone, you are helping him develop important skills like self-regulation, patience, and problem solving, while fostering his creativity and curiosity.

If you have always entertained him, it might take some time and practice, but don’t give up.


Here are 10 tips to help your toddler play independently:

1-Start from an early age:

Starting from birth, allow your infant to have some “quiet” time while he is awake where he can safely look around and explore his environment. Toys do not have to be provided all the time.

2-Start slowly:

If your toddler is not used to playing on his own, start by sitting next to him, but do not participate in the play. Once he is entertained, you can move farther away from him and eventually leave the room. With time, and as he gets the hang of it, he will play for longer periods of time independently.

3-Don’t do the play for your toddler:

Although you want to teach your toddler how the world around him works, don’t lead the playtime. Instead allow him to take over, use his creativity, and act as the leader.

4-Set up a safe play area:

Provide simple, age appropriate toys like blocks, building toys, puzzles, dress up cloth, and dolls. Passive toys are considered superior. Ideally provide toys without batteries. Let the toddler use his imagination and create his own story for the play.

The play area should be visible to you and child proof.


5-Give your toddler some responsibilities:

Toddlers like to be in control. By giving him simple responsibilities like choosing which toys he is going  to play with, or picking up his toys after playtime, he can feel trusted by you and in control of the situation.

6-Develop a routine:

Toddlers do better when they know what to expect. If their schedule changes frequently, they get confused and cranky. Schedule unstructured, unplugged play in his daily routine.

7-Offer frequent praise:

Who doesn’t like praise? Toddlers are not the exemption. Frequent praise is a great way to encourage your toddler to become more confident and independent.

8-Reassure your toddler that you are close by:

Many toddlers refuse to play on their own because they don’t want to be left alone. It’s ok if you are present or within reach, if you are not actively entertaining the toddler.

9-Have realistic expectations:

The length of time that your child will be able to play independently depends on his age and maturity. Please remember that toddlers have a short attention span. Start with 5 or 10 minutes and slowly add more time.

Also, independent play does not mean unsupervised play. Make sure you are present or nearby while your toddler plays in a safe, childproof environment.

10-Be patient:

It will certainly take time for your toddler to master independent play, especially if this is a new concept for him. Attempt to always stay calm and use a soft tone of voice. If your toddler refuses to go play on his own simply redirect him to a different activity and try again later.

Does your toddler enjoy independent play? What has worked for you?

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