How to Make Your Kid More Awesome with Independent Play

It’s a quiet Tuesday afternoon for mom, the dishes are done, no laundry to do. You think maybe you’ll have a minute to do something just for you. Pinterest? A book? Netflix?


Then, shattering your decision making process, you hear, “Mooooooom!” The bellow of a bored 3 year-old wanting to play.


Do you wish your child would just decide on a toy and futz with it for a good while by himself? You’re not alone.


To make you despair a bit more about your kid, I wanted to tell you also that playing alone has loads of benefits for development and even his adult future.


Playing alone (or “Independent Play”)

  1. awakens your child’s imagination
  2. encourages independent thinking
  3. strengthens critical thinking skills
  4. prepares him for adult activities (mimicking)
  5. and he learns to be proud of himself when he successfully does something new


Amazing, you’re thinking. My kid doesn’t know how to go poop without me in the room with him cheering him on.


I’ve got good news. There is a way out of your dilemma. Of course the road is long, and it will take discipline and consistency on your part. You may as well give up now.


…is what your mother-in-law might say!


Come off it girl. Get out that decorating magazine and start teaching your kid to be a genius.


How to Get the Ball Rolling

(pun shamelessly intended)


Trick your kid at first.

“Moooom, play with me” can be followed by “Sure honey!” and you follow him into the playroom or his room or the backyard or wherever and pick up a toy, maybe start out playing with him and as he gets into his Paw Patrol scenario, you go ahead and fizzle out. Sit with him, but don’t participate as much as you can.


This is the tricky part. Take it easy. Kids are smart and he will totally figure out your game if you try too much too fast.


Take another step back.

At some point your kid will start playing at his little scenarios by himself, and when you notice that you’re not having to jump in (at his request) and you’re hardly participating at all anymore, make your move.


Grab your magazine and sit on the other side of the room as he plays. Give him room to expand his play without you. You don’t have to confine his play to that room either. Make sure he understands where the appropriate play areas are and that if he wants to he can go there whenever he wants too.


Stop saying “No”

Is your adorable clutzy 3 year-old wanting to play with your hammer and nails? Does Susy always dig your good heels out of the closet and proceed to clomp around the house in them?


If you find yourself saying “no” to something specific more than other things, find a way to let them do it. Get him some realistic-looking toy tools, if you get the baby-ish chintzy ones he might not get as excited. Get her some fancy heeled costume shoes. Etcetera.


Become a closet minimalist

One of the best ideas in all of history is to have a few toy bins with distinctly different toys in each one. Take one down, pass it around, and switch bins every few days. Pack the first one up at bedtime and come morning, it’s Christmas with all the novelty of playing with “new” toys.


Get yourself between 3 and 4 bins and you have yourself a sure thing.


A) The poor kid isn’t overwhelmed with all the choices, therefore needing someone to help him decide what to do.

B) Your house isn’t one big toy disaster.


Win. Win.


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