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 you never get the chance to do. Pinterest? Blog? Netflix? Shattering your decision making process you hear, “Mommy!” The bellow of a bored 3 year-old wanting to play. With you. A grown woman with a to-do list.
Do you wish your kid would play by himself and really enjoy it Toy Story style? You’re not alone.
To make you worry 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. One of my favorite subjects is the psychology and development of children. Today’s topic will revolve around the amazing psychology of independent play.
…awakens your child’s imagination
…encourages independent thinking
…strengthens critical thinking skills
…prepares him for adult activities (copying you)
…and he learns to be proud of himself when he successfully does something new by himself
Well that’s just dandy, you’re thinking. My kid doesn’t know how to go poop without me in the room with him cheering him on.
Don’t stop reading because 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.
Yeah, you may as well give up now.
…is what your mother-in-law might say!
Come off it girl. Get out that book you’ve been putting off, sit down with some relaxing herbal tea and allow your kid to become a genius.
How to Get the Ball Rolling
(pun shamelessly intended)
Play With Your Kid
Give me a minute. We’re working on a strategy here! Playing with your child will help him play independently. I promise!
“Mommy, can you 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 you start out playing with him whole-heartedly but watch as he filters you out. He gets into his Paw Patrol scenario and you aimlessly hold whatever toy he gave you. Sit with him, but try to be as passive as possible.
This is tricky. Take it easy. Kids are smart and he will totally figure out your game if you put the brakes on too fast. I wasn’t lying when I said it would take time and consistency.
Do this for the first week or so.
Fade into the Background
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. Make sure he understands where the appropriate play areas are and that if he wants to he can go there whenever he wants to.
My favorite maneuver is to give him little ideas. “I know! Maybe you could go get the helicopter and the good guys could do a rescue mission out in the back yard.” With any luck he will be running for the helicopter and outside to play.
Some moms have a bad habit of butting in. She is usually your run of the mill type-A mom who sees her baby playing with a toy the “wrong” way, and she feels the distinct need to correct her child. “Helicopters fly, they don’t drive on the ground.”
Resist butting in.
In some instances it might be necessary. Toys should not be thrown across a room, but an airplane is allowed to become a submarine.
The more you stay out of it, the less you will be called upon to “help” your child play.
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, you can’t” to one particular annoying activity more than others, 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 dress up shoes.
This also helps them develop their identity. They love to be like you and pretend to be you, so create an environment where they can participate.
Does your princess love to help you in the kitchen, but mostly she is underfoot? Instead of shooing her out, next time see if there is anything she can legitimately help you with. Whisking, stirring and otherwise mixing is an activity nearly any age can help with.
Even though she might need some supervision, she is developing a sense of self-sufficiency which will make for a happy mom and a very intelligent child.
Become a Pretend Minimalist
Maybe you’re a regular minimalist already! Hats off to you. What I mean by being a “pretend” minimalist is to have only a few toys out at once.
One of the best ideas in all of history is to have a few toy bins. Switch bins every few days and your kids are enraptured by their novel “new” toys. Those are the toys they haven’t seen in a week or two.
Get yourself between 3 and 4 bins. Every few days after bedtime switch them out. When they go to their “new” bin, they’ll be more interested for longer periods.
The benefits are two-fold: 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. It is amazing what one small toddler can do to a perfectly semi-tidy house.
Do you have any successes to share about teaching independent play? Tell your story in the comments below!