Encouraging Independent Play

independent play“Mommy play!” my oldest daughter would demand when she was a toddler. She insisted that I play with her constantly and followed me everywhere I went. Although I appreciated the attention and love, I also needed some time alone.

With a new baby on the way and my work deadlines, I desperately needed her to entertain herself for short periods of time.

As moms, we hear a lot about the need to spend quality and quantity time with our kids. I think sometimes the pressure to be the perfect mom who plays with her kids, sings lullabies, and still finds time to do things she enjoys every day can feel like too much. Every mom deserves a break and teaching kids to play independently is an important life skill. 

These three strategies encouraged my overly clingy daughter:

Play First and Work Later

This one is a little counterintuitive for “to do list” people like me, but it often works wonders.

Instead of asking my daughter to wait for me to play with her, I sat down and played with her right away. That eliminated the whining and clinginess and things went more smoothly. After we played for about ten minutes, I praised her for the good job she was doing and then asked her to finish playing without my help.

Mix Work and Play

This one works well for sick or clingy days or times when our kids just aren’t yet able to entertain themselves.

I found ways to let her play in the room where I was working if she became upset when I left the room. This helped her feel more secure and still encouraged her to play independently.

I would set-up Play-Doh at the table while I cooked dinner or art supplies next to my desk while I worked. Often I could create small tasks for her to do, like stacking cups, while I emptied the dishwasher.  

Create Play from Work           

This is my favorite for those little ones with adult personalities in the house. As a former little adult, these activities were always my favorite.

Take everyday work items like a calculator, old keyboard, pots and pans, or laundry baskets, and turn them into a fun game. Sometimes encouraging independence is as simple as giving a child something they wouldn’t normally play with to mix things up.

My daughter’s personal favorite was an old wicker bassinet that she turned into her personal boat full of stuffed animal passengers.  

Now that she’s a teenager, I feel lucky if my daughter asks to spend time with me. Her days of being attached to my hip were numbered, after all. Thankfully, we have a new puppy in the house now and my floor is once again littered with toys. Turns out, I can play fetch in between typing. 

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