It takes time and patience to foster independent play in young children. While some are perfectly content with their own company, others may need to be constantly entertained. The earlier you can begin to encourage independent play with your child, the better.
Much of a child’s need to have parents play with them is down to the way we interact with them in the early months of their lives. Of course, every mum and dad wants to play with their little ones as much as possible, and this should never be discouraged. However, it’s important to also teach them that playing alone and entertaining themselves is fun too.
Toys play a big part in encouraging independent play. Children are born with a huge capacity to learn and be creative, so toys that involve problem solving will encourage them to use their imaginations and leave them free to control the play. Simple items like spoons, cups, bowls, balls, blocks, pieces of material and cardboard boxes open a world of exploration and imagination for children from a young age. While technology plays a great part in the lives of children, toys that encourage imagination and creativity help to build confidence in their ability to play and allow them to become more independent.
Where you can, try and avoid unnecessary interruptions to your child’s play. Swooping in to pick up a toddler in the midst of play because we decide it is a mealtime, nappy change time or even just time to go, can condition children to become easily distracted and can lessen the value they place on independent play.
Observing first before calling to them or interrupting their play is the key. Look for a break in their concentration or better still, wait for them to engage with you through a look, action or words. Then give them a time warning such as, “I need to change your nappy. We can do it now or wait for five minutes so you can finish what you are doing. Which would you prefer?” or “We need to go out to the shops, you can have five more minutes to finish up your play.”