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OK! So you have been this great Mom or Dad who has really invested in your kid since they were born! You have been attentive to them and invested in them and played with them. But now they ALWAYS want you to play with them and you are so ready for them to learn to play by themselves at times so you can do a project or clean the house or – God forbid – have some time where you don’t hear their voice J.
How do we teach independent play to our children? Let us give you some practical ideas to make this happen.
- Start with small increments.
Set the timer for 10-15 minutes. Find something fun for them to do – maybe go to the dollar store and have them pick out an inexpensive toy – and tell them they are going to play by themselves until the timer goes off. Maybe even give them a reward if they don’t ask Mommy or Daddy to play until the timer goes off.
What if they fail? Do you punish them? No. Remember you are building a skill in them they have not mastered yet. Simply tell them if they come out we are going to reset the timer and try it again. If it doesn’t work the first time – which it probably won’t – that’s ok. Simply tell them they won’t get the reward and we will try again tomorrow.
- Explain the why.
As you are teaching them, tell them the why it is good for them to play by themselves. Tell them this allows Mommy to work on her computer or it allows Daddy to get a project done. By playing by themselves they are helping others. It also helps them to learn to have fun even when Mommy or Daddy is not around.
- Build larger increments.
Once they have mastered 15 minutes, then extend it to 20 minutes and then 30 minutes. Go overboard with your praise when they make it to the end of the timer (that shouldn’t be too hard since you have now had that 30 minutes to yourself J). Let them know how grateful you are and then maybe have a playtime with you be a part of the reward.
Independent play is a skill that has to be learned by your child. If you want it to happen in your home, take practical steps to train them to make it happen.