Independent play has been one of the top skills I wanted to teach my son from the very beginning. I’ve seen too many parents who can’t get anything done during the day because their children need them to play with them all day long. I’ve also seen how it can stifle creativity and overall independence in babies and kids.
From the time that I started putting Gideon down with his activity gym (probably a week or so old!) I started implementing these tips to teach him to play and learn independently. Now with baby #2 coming in 3 short months, I’m so glad that he is happy to play on his own for long periods of time!
Give Them Space
If you don’t give them the opportunity to play on their own, they’ll never have a chance to learn the skill. I started off leaving Gideon to look at his gym while I did other things in the room. As he got older I would leave the room while he played also. Now he will go off and play on his own even if I’m sitting on the floor with him, but don’t expect this from the beginning! Especially if you are starting with a clingy baby.
Give Them Tools
Especially if your baby is not mobile, make sure there are toys within reach for them to play with and manipulate. If they aren’t reaching yet, give them interesting things to look at like a gym or some stuffed animals nearby. Be sure if your immobile baby can grab and pull that if you put them under a gym it is sturdy and can’t be pulled down on them, especially since the idea is that you’re not sitting there with them so you won’t be able to catch it if it falls.
Crying is OK
Sometimes your baby won’t be happy that you’re not there with them, and that’s ok! Crying doesn’t always mean something is wrong, it often means that they are unhappy! Learning new skills can be uncomfortable and not fun. Feel free to keep independent play sessions short and lengthen them with time if your baby cries when you leave. With practice they will get used to it and learn to entertain themselves!
Play With Them
Just because your baby can play independently doesn’t mean they can’t play with you! Make sure you clock in some quality playtime together with your little one. They can learn so much from you, even from just watching the way you pick up and move their toys around!
While practicing independent play may not be fun at first, I promise it is so worth it. It is amazing to see the ways that Gideon plays with his toys and the ways he occupies himself. Sometimes he just sits down for a good 20 minutes flipping through books, while other times are more active with him running circles around the table or driving cars around complete with sound effects.
No matter the reason you want to try to teach the skill of independent play to your baby, it’s never too late to start! Let me know how your attempt goes! If you have any other tips or questions please leave a comment below or Ask a Bestie!