It’s the holiday season, and as we prepare for a special time of year, the only thing harder than juggling all of the holiday responsibilities may be getting your toddler to entertain themselves for a few minutes. It’s a common struggle for many families, but especially challenging during a busy season. Today we have some practical independent play tips for your toddler that will hopefully give you enough time to clean up the kitchen, prep dinner, or set the table.

First off, let us touch on the importance of independent play and why this is not only helpful but healthy for your child.

  1. It creates curiosity and personal interests. Independent play allows for a child to find interest in whatever they personally decide on and not only what mom or dad put in front of them. This helps them attach and detach themselves from their own individual interests without the direction of someone else.
  2. It builds confidence. Like the first bullet-point, independent play allows for a child to feel confident in their actions and emotions, with or without anyone else present. Self-reliance is grown and nurtured here; a huge skill taken into adulthood.
  3. It’s a “sanity-saver” for busy parents. Once a child has learned how to independently play, gone are the days of telling your children exactly what to do and how to do it. Or reminding them how toys should be used or where they should go. Instead, this form of play allows your toddler to use their BIG minds to decide.
  4. It structures independence. A child discovering all they can do and feeling comfortable in their own imagination is incredibly powerful. Of course, a toddler is still very much reliant on their parents but being able to entertain themselves a few feet away from mom or dad allows the child to find comfort in their own mind and own abilities.

How To

Tip # 1: Ease into it

To get your child used to the idea of playing by themselves without your involvement, start slowly. Try a couple of days of just sitting silently beside them as they play, instead of joining in. For some children, independent play comes much more naturally and you’ll notice how quickly you’ll be able to simply go to the bathroom or wash the dishes while they play. For others, this may be harder and may require baby steps (ex: sitting on the couch instead of sitting right next to them while they play).

Tip # 2: Find the BEST toys

Toys are a huge part of encouraging independent play. Children are born with not only a huge capacity to learn but to be creative as well. Replacing battery-operated or single function toys with open-ended, problem solving, and age-appropriate toys will encourage your toddler to use their imagination, leaving them free to control the play. Of course, there are plenty of home items that serve as great open-ended toys:

  • spoons 
  • cups
  • bowls
  • balls
  • blocks
  • pieces of material
  • cardboard boxes

All of these items leave a child’s imagination free to create and explore. This helps build the child’s confidence in their ability to play without any direction – thus participating in independent play.

ChildLife Holiday Entertaining 2

Tip #3: Have Patience

Be patient with yourself and your child. There is a learning curve for many families, but independent play is a natural, efficient, and productive addition to add to your families’ routine and you will succeed! Just give it some time, grace, and patience. It is never too early or too late to encourage meaningful, independent play.

ChildLife Holiday Entertaining 3

Tip #4: 10 Minutes of Mommy (Daddy) and Me Time

Remember that not all play needs to be independent play. Try giving your child 10 minutes of uninterrupted time with you. Take those 10 minutes to play something special with your little one. Make that time really special, give it a name even: “mama and me time.” No phones, no TVs, and no siblings. For 10 minutes your toddler chooses anything they want in the world to play with and they get your undivided attention. This time gives your child something to look forward to every day and serves as a reminder that even if mama is busy right now, tomorrow is another great day for “mama and me time.”

Tip #5: Dedicate a Space

Try creating a space for your toddler to easily access their toys. This is one of the most important tips to succeed in independent play. Make this space organized to the best of your ability so your child can easily spot the toys they want to play with. It does not have to be anything fancy, but making a small space dedicated to your toddler allows them to have control over their toys and gives them the motivation to get creative.

ChildLife Holiday Entertaining 4

Try these five tips out and watch your little one slowly, but surely become a master of independent play. Of course, these tips do not always work; sometimes little ones just crave that extra attention, and that’s okay too.