9 Tips For Encouraging Independent Play With Your Kids

When your kids are engaging in independent play, it’s a perfect time for you to take that down time and focus on yourself and your daily self-care. Encouraging independent play is actually a lot easier than it sounds.

9 ways to encourage independent play with your kids so you can get some alone time

There are different times during the day that we can grab time for ourselves even if we are responsible for the kids. Not being able to get away can’t be an excuse anymore. 

One of those times is when they are engaging in Independent play. I took to Instagram a few weeks ago and some of my followers said they needed help implementing and teaching how to encourage independent play with their kids. So, let’s talk about Independent Play.

We have ALL been there…

You’re craving time to yourself, and your kids are busy with various activities. So, you grab your book and your hot coffee/tea and plop yourself on the couch. But the minute you sit down, your kids are climbing all over you.

WHY? You literally were just watching them play nicely and they wanted nothing to do with you. What gives? You so desperately want them to learn how to leave you alone for a little bit without needing your interaction.

Stressed out mom looking at a computer screen with a phone in her hand while her child is giving her a hug.

First, don’t feel bad about letting your kids engage in independent play or even encouraging your kids to engage in independent play. Some people will try to make you feel bad for letting your kids play on their own because you’re home with them so you should be playing with them all waking hours. This is just insanity and shouldn’t be expected of us or them.

There are benefits to independent play and it’s part of our job to guide and teach our children, especially if they’re not in preschool.

The back view of a child in their underwear playing at a beige colored couch. There are toys strewn about the room but the child is engaged in independent play.

Why is Independent Play Important?

Children playing alone is important because it builds on skills that kids need to learn, like problem solving, patience and imaginative play. It allows them to play pretty much with no rules and they can choose which direction to take the play which helps them fill their need to be in control a little bit. 

It also benefits you because you can set them up for independent play and you can go do your own things which honestly is reason enough, right?

When can I expect my child to play independently?

Typically, by age 3, you can expect your child to be able to play independently, after you’ve done some encouraging of it. By 3 years old, they can sometimes play by themselves for up to an hour. Interestingly enough, this is usually when kids drop the nap.

Bird's eye view of child in gray shirt with blue hearts doing a colorful puzzle of a cat on a white carpet.

Why won’t my kid play alone?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. A big reason why your kids won’t leave you alone is because of separation anxiety. Our kids are obsessed with us. We’re all they know and they look up to us. Most kids’ love language is quality time and/or touch so by playing on top of you and needing your attention, they’re trying to fill their bucket.

Depending on their age, they’re cognitively incapable of playing alone so sometimes it does take patience and time from us until their brains are able to play independently. 

Ways to encourage independent play with your kids

Spend intentional time together before independent play

Most kids’ love language is quality time and 9 times out of 10 when our kids are “bugging” us, it’s because they’re craving that quality time together. Setting up some one on one time together before the independent play will fill that bucket for them. Make sure you’re setting an alarm or giving your child a clear start and end time (color 3 pictures, read 4 books, race 10 cars, etc) that is appropriate for them.

Start small

When you start implementing independent play, start small. Don’t ask them to play alone for 45 minutes right off the bat because you’re going to be incredibly disappointed. Give them direction for a game or activity and a time limit if necessary. 

Be ready for “failure.”

Have a plan in place and prepare yourself for them to not last the entire time when you’re starting. This is that mindset bullshit I hate so much but preach so much. Go into it knowing that they may not last the whole time. Pick an activity for yourself that can be abruptly stopped. 

Gather special toys for independent play

Have a “quiet box” for them. This is a box of things you know they love and will keep their attention. This can include puzzles, play dough, coloring books and crayons or markers, look and find books, matching games.

Stay physically close

Stay physically close when you start and gradually remove yourself from the room. Some kids like to be physically close and will be watching for you. 

Create a safe space that’s just for them

Create a safe space that’s just for them. Keep screens away (nothing wrong with screen time, this just isn’t for screen time). Maybe it can be in a space they don’t normally use for play. Their bedroom is a great spot for independent play.

Talk to them about what’s next

Before you start the independent play, talk to them about what they’re going to be doing after it. Kids love to know what to expect and it definitely makes your day go smoother when they know what’s coming next. You can even add in another one on one play session after if that’s what they want to do. I personally like to do screen time after. 

Don’t push it

Don’t push it. If your kids’ independent play is them all playing together, don’t wait until they’re all having meltdowns before you decide to end it. Set the time (sometimes the timer can be more for us rather than them) and stick to it.

Make it a permanent part of your routine

Make it a permanent part of their routine. Like anything with kids, if it’s a part of their routine, it really helps their day become more predictable which is what kids LOVE. Helping their day become more predictable will help them and you.

What are some independent play ideas for my child?

Independent play for toddlers ideas

  • Puzzles
  • Look and find books
  • Listening to a story on an Amazon device
  • Playing with cars on a track
  • Toddler safe sensory play

Independent play for preschoolers ideas

  • Puzzles
  • Look and find books
  • Listening to stories on an Amazon device
  • Drawing or coloring
  • Preschool safe sensory play
  • Superhero imaginative play with superhero figures
  • Barbies/dolls
  • Matching games

Independent play for older kids ideas

  • How to draw books
  • Paint by number books
  • Sticker by number books
  • Lego
  • Sticky mosaics
  • Listening to music
  • Card games
  • Board games

So now you may be asking yourself, “what’s my first step to encouraging independent play with my kids?” Start small and with low expectations. Use timers and find some activities that can be used just for quiet time/independent play.

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