Encouraging Independent Play

Ways to teach a child to play without Mommy's interaction.

Q. My 15-month-old daughter is very curious and playful, but if she doesn't have someone to interact with -- especially me -- she cries for attention. How can I encourage her to entertain herself?

A. Independent play is a skill that takes time for young children to develop. Start by creating a basket of special toys for your daughter. Fill this basket with a few toys and books she likes, as well as interesting, safe gadgets like a whisk broom. Also include fun "stuff" such as a lacy scarf or an empty egg carton. Sit down and begin playing with her. Then, when she gets involved with a toy or object, slowly disengage yourself.

Stay in the same room and begin an activity of your own -- reading, folding laundry, etc. When she naturally solicits your attention, stay connected but in a less intense way, such as by commenting on what she is doing. You might say, "Wow, you pushed the car all the way over here to Mommy. Can you push it back now?"

Extend these independent playtimes by a few minutes every few days. This will help her adjust to not having you directly involved and will increase her comfort with playing on her own. If independent play is part of her daily routine, she is more likely to accept it as the norm.

Claire Lerner, LCSW, is a child development specialist at Zero to Three, a national nonprofit promoting the healthy development of babies and toddlers (zerotothree.org).

Originally published in American Baby magazine, June 2007.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

American Baby

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