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How can I get my child to play independently?

Posted by Jill Heaton on

Teach your child to play independently in 5 simples steps...

Parents often complain that their child doesn't like to play on their own. Many children play, but want an adult to play with them pausing frequently to show their progress. Interacting with others is a good skill, but teaching your child to play independently is important, because it gives you time to work, run a home or have a bit of free time.

1. Start gradually
Rather than sneaking off, it is best to tell your child that you are going to leave them for a few minutes to wash some dishes, for example, and make sure you come back when you say you will. This builds trust and can reduce their need for your constant attention.

2. Rotate their toys and set up scenes
Instead of keeping all of their toys out all of the time pack some away and bring something different out. You can have a 'Dinosaur Monday', a 'Farm Tuesday' and so on, to keep your child interested and engaged. Try setting up a scene with toys first thing in the morning and make it look enticing, so that your child wants to get involved. Get some inspiration from the book 'What the Dinosaurs Did' by Refe & Susan Tuma.

3. Parallel play
To encourage children to be independent and play by themselves, parents can demostrate that behaviour for them. You can suggest reading time after lunch where you read your own book beside your child, or set them up 'growing toy dinosaurs' in the garden while you do some planting or weeding. The benefit in doing similar activities can allow them to mimic your behaviour and learn from you.

how to play with dinosaurs in the garden

4. Playdates
Independent play does not develop from playing alone it actually comes from interacting with others. Hours spent playing on the farm and caring for doll 'babies' with other children will fuel a child’s imagination for when they’re at home by themselves. 

5. Get them involved
Acknowledge your child’s need for your attention by including them in what you’re doing. Get them to help you wash the dishes, make lunch,and clean the bathroom with safe cleaning products. They’re entertained while you finish your tasks, and they get a sense of accomplishment at the end.

Offer a reward for playing independently. You might suggest making ginger biscuits or reading their favourite story or giving them a sticker for their chart if they manage to play independently for 20 minutes. Be sure to show them the clock and where the big had will be when its reward time!

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