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.
How can I promote independent play?
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 they play. Let them explore the materials and toys freely. Once they are absorbed in the activity, try moving to another part of the room. Your toddler will still feel comfortable with you nearby. When they are happily playing on their own, try not to hover, but make sure their play area is safe and comfortable.
If you try to leave but your little one gets upset by your attempts, you can set some boundaries. Explain to them you need some minutes alone, put a timer that they can watch, and after the time finishes, come back and pay attention to them. Eventually, you can add more time until they are comfortable playing on their own.
Playing alone has its perks!
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 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 they are 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 foster their development. Let your little one engage in independent play for a while; you’ll see their creativity flourish before you!