3 Tips to Encourage Independent Play

Young children crave constant attention, especially from their caregivers. Leading us to wonder, “How can we best help our children to become more independent as they progress through childhood?”

We’ve outlined some easy tips to help you navigate this important—and often challenging —developmental stage.

1. Establish Clear Boundaries
A sense of structure helps children to focus and fully engage on the task at hand. Establishing clear and realistic boundaries and guidelines sets children up for success. To start, always participate in the activity alongside the child. This gives them the special one-on-one time they crave and helps build trust in the endeavor, which in turn strengthens their confidence to pursue it independently. After a period of time, encourage the child to continue playing while you step away. Specifically, you can ask the child to finish the activity and to show it to you when you return to the play space. Make sure you are on their level when speaking to them and assure them with a positive attitude. Start with short spurts of time and slowly build on the duration of independent play. When returning to the play space, it’s important to praise the child’s work with encouraging words.
2. Create a Thoughtfully Designed Play Space
A thoughtfully designed play space establishes order and helps children to focus when choosing activities. The space does not need to be expansive; this can simply be a corner of a room outlined with pillows. It’s simply important that this area is well identified as the child’s own and void of clutter. It’s helpful to use shelves to display a selection of toys rather than keeping them buried in a container. This encourages children to select one activity at a time, building focus. Providing too many choices hinders a child’s ability to grow independently because they are not equipped developmentally to successfully manage distractions. Overtime, children will develop focus and concentration engaging in the activities set up within their own space.
3. Encourage Attentive Play
Teaching children to choose one activity at a time enables a sense of control and self-confidence. Playing with several items at once can overwhelm a young child and cause frustration, quickly leading to a lack of interest. Developmentally, young children are not capable to organize their thoughts on how to combine activities. By encouraging attentive play on a specific activity, you will be boosting focus and interest on the task at hand. Help children to have a sense of control by setting boundaries, establishing where and how to play and encouraging them to become comfortable being by themselves.

It’s our role as caregivers to establish a successful learning environment for our children to develop independently. Children will learn to respect the boundaries you set as long as you are conveying them with clarity and kindness. Try to avoid screen time and encourage real play. You might be surprised by the wonders of self-confidence that your child uncovers. Allow your child to use their imagination and be creative. Learning through independent play will enable your child to grow with confidence.

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