Teaching toddlers to play independently helps them build creativity and critical-thinking skills, and helps parents catch a break too! Independent play is important because it teaches children how to entertain themselves and helps them become more self-sufficient. This type of play usually occurs during the toddler stage.

It’s not always easy getting kids to play alone, they do love our company! But give it a try, one step at a time. At first, try to just sit beside your little one silently, while he plays. Let him explore the play materials freely. Once he is absorbed in the activity, try moving to another part of the room. Your toddler will still feel comfortable with you nearby. When he is happily playing on his own, try not to hover, but make sure his play area is safe and comfortable.

When we tell children exactly how to play with a toy, or what to do with it, we limit their exploration and imagination. A study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that children were more likely to figure out a toy’s extra characteristics (like a surprise noise it makes) when left alone with it, than if an adult first showed them how to use it.

“Children flourish when they have opportunities to make choices about what they do, particularly in play situations.” – Jean Ispa, PhD

You have to be aware of how often you interfere and instruct your child when he is playing. A study from the University of Missouri found that children become less engaged when their mothers tell them how to play and what to play. Children were even found to have negative feelings towards their directive mothers, especially when their directiveness was negative or critical, with a lack of affection.

It’s important to show affection towards your children while supporting their play and, at the same time, be careful not to dictate exactly how they should do it. That way, you’ll benefit their development. Let your little one play without direction for a while, and you’ll see his creativity flourish before you.

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Chew, J. (2013). Mothers’ Behavior during Playtime Linked to Young Children’s Engagement with Them, MU Researcher Says. Retrieved July 18, 2016, from http://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2013/0204-mothers’-behavior-during-playtime-linked-to-young-children’s-engagement-with-them-mu-researcher-says/

Phillips, A. (2011). Going Solo: Independent Play in Toddlers. Retrieved July 18, 2016, from http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/social/independent-play-toddlers/