>Independent Play

>Tips for Encouraging Independent Play

* First, pinpoint any particular needy times and plan accordingly. If your childis an early riser and always in need of company at that time or if they need to reconnect when parents first return home, don’t expect those to be times for independentplay.

* Try starting activities together that the child can continue alone. if your childreally enjoys and has success with puzzles, take out a stck and start together. Once the child is engaged make a trip away by saying something like, “I need tocheck on something in the kitchen, I will be back in a few minutes.” Leave andreturn in just a few minutes to check in. If all is going well you might make a few encouraging comments such as, “You’ve gotten two whole puzzles done!” and then take another trip. As the trips get longer just be sure to continue checkingin. Children given encouragment are more likely to stick with it than if left completely alone. Many times parents try to get kids to start something independently. Thisis often less successful.

* Set aside specific times TO PLAY. Some children worry that they won’t get anytime with you if they don’t follow your every move and ask to play constantly. Giving them a time they can count on may aleviate this worry. It helps some ifthis play is the same time every day (think the needy times) but it can be differentas long as it is your priority.

* Give children something to do that is similar to what you are doing. If you needtime on the computer place their leappads nearby. If you need time cooking in thekitchen give them pots and pans with spoons and a little bit of water to play with.

* Explain why you need the time. Even very young children may appreciate an explanation. This can be as simple as “Mommy has a few calls to make. I need quiet for 10 minutes.”

* Arrange playdates (if this is helpful). Once children are a bit older, they maywant a friend to help spend their time. You may have to have several playdates to find a mix of children that can play together nicely for more than a few minutesbut if you find that match it is priceless. For others, the playdates are never really helpful. Some need more supervision on playdates and there is no way you’dleave them alone.

* Create a space that builds on their interests. If your child is very into picturebooks make a cozy reading corner that invites them in. Big beanbags, a low faceout book shelf, maybe a tape player for books on tape and a few related things like puppets.

* Limit TV and screentime. When parents hear this many of them argue, “But this is their independent time!” While children are viewing they are being otherwiseentertained and learning nothing about independent play. They are learning to bemore dependent.

* Boredom is a good thing. Many parent worry about their children being bored whenleft to play alone. This boredom is what sparks creativity, allows children to explore their interests and leads to better quality independent play. It is goodfor kids to have real downtime. At a minimum think an hour a day of unstructuredjust go play time. Time when they are in charge of what to do next.

Author: Dr. Rene Hackney

With a MA in school psychology and a PhD in developmental psychology, I founded and work as a parent educator at Parenting Playgroups. Somewhere in there I trained in the Developmental Clinic at Children's NMC and in the public schools. I have two beautiful, funny children who make me practice what I preach most everyday.

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