Do you spend every day with your toddler clinging to your leg? Do you find yourself constantly seeking new ways to entertain your child? Do you plop your toddler in front of the television to get a few precious minutes for work or chores? You need to teach your toddler to entertain himself!
Playing alone is a valuable skill that builds independence, imagination and creativity in your child. It takes persistence and time, but you can teach your child this important skill using a few easy steps.
Step One: Create a safe, baby-proof play area.
Select a room in your house that you can easily gate off and baby-proof. This can be your child’s room, a playroom, den or other area in your home that has a doorway and a soft carpet. Remove any breakable or unsafe objects that you don’t want your toddler to play with like delicate collectibles, plastic bags or electrical equipment. Cover all electrical outlets and tie blind cords up out of the way. Secure large furniture to the walls so that it can’t be pulled over on top of your child. If your child is a climber, be sure that there is nothing in the room that he can scale or fall from. Gate off the entrance to the room with a sturdy baby gate and place a baby monitor on a high shelf so that you can monitor your child while he plays.
Step Two: Rotate a selection of creative, interesting toys.
If your child is bored with the same old toys, you will quickly hear about it. Sort all your child’s toys into plastic bins and rotate them on at least a weekly basis, if not more often. Stock your child’s playroom with educational toys, books, puzzles and washable art materials. Some good choices for independent play are age-appropriate wooden puzzles, board books, dolls, play sets like Fisher Price Little People, washable crayons and coloring books, wooden or plastic building blocks, hand and finger puppets, and play dishes and food.
Step Three: Provide music.
Set up a portable CD player on a high shelf and select some child-friendly CDs. Sing-along CDs are a good choice as are CDs with songs by characters that are familiar to your child (Barney, Sesame Street, etc.). Selecting familiar music and characters can be comforting and will be fun for your child to listen to and move with.
Step Four: Introduce your child to the space and take baby steps.
The first time you place your child in the new play area, sit with him and show him the different toys and activities he can do. Keep him company but try to let him play on his own as much as possible. The next time, turn on the baby monitor and leave the room for a few minutes. Return every few minutes to check in and reassure your child that you’re nearby. He may fuss as soon as you’re out of sight, but remember that you’re helping him build independence. Gradually build up the time you leave your child alone by five or ten minutes each day until your child is able to entertain himself for longer periods of time. Each child has a natural limit to the time they are willing to entertain themselves and you will discover your child’s limits by trial and error. The older your child gets, the longer he will be able to entertain himself. By age two, it is not unusual for your child to be able to build up to 45 minutes to an hour of solo play at a time.
Step Five: Give lots of praise and encouragement.
Follow up each solo playtime by reading a story or playing a game with your child. Praise him lavishly for playing so nicely. This is his reward for learning to entertain himself! Your reward will be a more independent child and time to complete chores or work in peace.