Ask ME: How can I get my child to play by themselves?

MEplace psychologist Viktoria Paniotova answers your parenting questions.

MEplace Psychologist Viktoria Paniotova

Firstly, I would advise that you encourage independence not only during playtime, but in all aspects of your little one’s life; be it eating, helping around the house or getting dressed. Allow them to make their own decisions and take ownership of their environment, but keep it age appropriate: for example, if they cannot fully dress themselves yet, provide support as needed.

Here are a few tips to help get your little one playing independently:

  • Have a routine
    This may start off as time that you play together, but knowing that, say, the 2 hours after breakfast is play-time can facilitate the move towards independent play.
  • Increase solo play-time gradually
    Start with a few minutes, then increase gradually to 10, 20, 30 minutes and so on, depending on how your child gets on.
  • Have a ‘Yes’ space
    Create a space that is safe and easily accessible for the child, so they don’t require your constant supervision. There are some tips for setting up a play space in our first imaginative play prompt.
  • Use open-ended play props
    Toys such as blocks, dolls and figures — that is, toys that do not prescribe a certain kind of play, as play kitchens do — will allow children the freedom and flexibility to come up with their own ideas.
  • Avoid screens
    Try to avoid having distractions such as screens or radios playing, as these can take the child’s attention away from their play. Similarly, avoid highly stimulating toys, such as those with lights and sounds.
  • Independent play should be child-led
    Play is part of a child’s natural drive to learn and explore — they use it to learn about the world around them. For this reason, some play ideas may not seem particularly interesting to you, but will be fascinating to your child. Try to avoid steering play towards something that you find more interesting or educational, as this could only dissuade or bore your little one.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, we have a wonderful series of imaginative play prompts available here.

To take part in our weekly Ask ME Anything, send your questions to us on Instagram.

Viktoria Paniotova
Psychologist and Content Manager at MEplace

Ed. Lizzie Corscaden
Content Creator at MEplace

This Ask ME Anything answer used information from Famly’s interview with Dr Stella Louis and Julia Manning-Morton, available here.

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