Playing Alone is Good for Your Kid! How to Encourage Independent Play

By Vicki Clinebell

Independent PlayIt's sometimes difficult to ignore a plea from your child, "Mommy, will you play with me?" If you are like most parents, you're torn between the need to do other things and the desire to share special moments with your little one. Take some comfort in knowing that although interactive play important, independent play is also good for your child, and there will be times when he or she can play alone, just as there will be many opportunities for you to play together.

What are the Benefits of Independent Play?

The benefits of independent play are critical to a child's development. Children who make up their own games, characters and situations without direct adult intervention are learning to express themselves, to solve problems, and to cope with new situations. Play is a fundamental component in a child's psychological and physical growth—using her imagination is vital to a child's education and helpful to her overall success in life. Compliment your child when she demonstrates creativity and imagination in her play. Unstructured play is beneficial to development, and helps kids discover their own likes and to form a sense of self. It also helps parents create a pocket of time where they can take care of necessary chores that are required to keep a busy household functioning smoothly. Encouraging a child to play independently can be a winning situation for everyone.

How to Encourage Independent Play at the Start?

When you want your kid to start playing independently, the trick is knowing how to encourage it. Despite what many busy parents believe, allowing the child to watch television or play video games alone is not the same as having them engage in independent play. Activities like television viewing actually hinder a child's creativity and are a passive use of their time. While it may prove too difficult to completely banish television from their activities, it certainly helps to put limits on viewing and stick to them. It's tempting for a parent to allow kids to watch television or play on the computer when they desperately need an uninterrupted hour, but kids should be occupied with more imaginative activities that enhance their development and sense of self, keeping them healthy, active and occupied.

You can encourage a reluctant child's independent play by giving her a starting point to spark her imagination. Independent play is a skill that takes some time for a young child to develop. A good start is to assemble a basket of special toys and items she likes: a book and some interesting and safe objects like an egg beater, a feather duster or whisk broom. Add in some fun options like a hat, scarves and other dress-up accessories, crayons, paper, and an empty egg carton. You can jump-start her play by sitting down with her to explore the items, and slowly disengage once she shows signs of getting involved with  her discoveries.

Stay in the room with her, but start your own activity: reading, tidying up, or folding laundry. Being close by makes it simple to keep the connection she craves by occasionally commenting on what she is doing and praising her for her activities. In this way, you are not directly involved but are providing her comfort while she is playing alone. Extend the time on these independent play sessions by a few minutes every day until it becomes part of the child's normal routine.

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