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How to Encourage Independent Play in 10 Ways!

In our previous article, we discussed the basics of independent play. We also focused on how it can be beneficial for both the kids and parents. Independent play is a key learning skill among babies, toddlers and preschoolers. It allows them to identify and develop their potential capabilities. Resultantly, they can become good adults. Play is very important for the overall development of kids. Even if alone, play can be very fruitful. Independent play time by age has been given much importance by experts. Therefore, understanding how to encourage independent play in kids is very important. This should be done according to their age groups.

When it comes about how to encourage independent play, there are different ways in this regard. However, the age of the child must always be considered primarily. Every age group has its own developmental challenges and opportunities. For example, how to encourage independent play in 1 year-old baby is different from how to encourage independent play in 5 year-old baby. Therefore, different activities can work differently according to age of the child. Some techniques can be same. But some are always different.

Want to know what are the common activities to encourage independent play? Keep reading below!

1. Respect your child’s individuality

Every child is unique! Even two siblings are never same. Similarly, every child has his/her own preferences for play activities. For example, 2 year old baby prefers rattles and stuff toys. But, a 4 year old child never does. Parents should always respect the individuality of their kids. This may seem unrelated at surface level. However, this is what lies at the core of how to encourage independent play. When you respect your child’s individuality, you set the grounds to encourage independent play for them.

You may ask what is meant by respecting the individuality! This is simply when you let your kids choose their toys and their play games on their own. Sometimes, parents unconsciously start giving their own feedbacks. As a result of this, children start doubting their own creativity. Their confidence levels are also shattered. All this leads to a decrease of interest on behalf of the kids. Consequently, they never engage in independent play at all.

In simple words, let children play on their own!

2. One step at a time!

How to encourage independent play: try baby steps
Go for One Step At A Time!

This is the golden rule!!!

You have to take things slowly and gradually. Leaving kids alone with the toys at the very first attempt is not advised. Instead, you should sit beside your kids while they are playing. But you should not be joining them. Once the kids become completely indulged in the play, you can go away from there. Trust me when I say that this is the golden rule of how to encourage independent play.

3. Create Safe Playing Areas

Create a special and separate place for your kids to play. The place must be in an area where you can keep an eye on kids from a distance. In this way, you can keep check if kids are engaging in any harmful activity. However, the kids should never realize/know that they are being watched. Now this is upto you to choose the area according to your home. For example, sometimes such areas are available that are visually accessible from the kitchen. You can choose it. This will help you to keep watch while working in the kitchen. The kids will think that mum is busy in kitchen and is not watching me. This will encourage independent play a lot.

Another point to keep in mind is the safety of the chosen area. Things that can harm the kids should be removed from the area completely. Developing a childproof area is one of the basics of how to encourage independent play. Every parent should try this technique from the beginning. We guarantee you actual results.

4. Select Toys Wisely

The toys for the kids should be selected very wisely if you want them to play independently. For instance, some parents give all the toys at once to the kids and leave them alone with the toys. Some of the toys may not be age-appropriate. For example, you give a difficult puzzle to your 4 years old kid. Now he cannot solve that puzzle alone. This is far beyond his developmental stage. The child will definitely call you to come to him. If you’ll go and help him, you’ll reinforce his idea that he cannot play independently. Consequently, he will lose all confidence and interest completely. You definitely do not want this to happen, right? So choose the toys carefully!

Likewise, some toys can also be dangerous for kids to play with alone. What do you think will happen if you give a battery-operated toy to your 2 years old baby and the batteries come out! Its highly likely that the baby will swallow the batteries. This is something that you’ll never want. So, again the wisdom of choosing toys carefully is applicable. If you are thinking about how to encourage independent play, do try this trick.

5. Keep your Expectations Realistic!

As a parent, you should always keep realistic expectations about your child’s competencies. Never think that they’ll start playing independently only after one or two times. Some kids may start playing on their own from the very first attempt. However, some kids may need more time. YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT THIS REALITY!!

Always remember that every kid has his/her own time by age to accept and indulge in independent play. A 12-month baby may play independently for 6-8 minutes. However, a 2 years old baby can play for about 20-25 minutes. So, if you want to know how to encourage independent play in your kid, stick to this rule!

6. Set a Clock/Timer

I use this technique with my kids and it actually works! I have gradually made my kids know that a 30-minutes play time on their own is a must for them. It is not a punishment for them. Rather, this will help them a lot. I set a time for the kids for 30-minutes. When the timer rings, the kids are free to come to me to show what they have made/done in that time. However, if they want to play independently for more time (which they’ll surely ask), they can go for it.

7. Present Toys Periodically!

Giving all toys at once and on daily basis can make kids bore and tired. It is suggested to give toys in a periodical manner. You may ask what does this mean???

Suppose that your kid has blocks, cars, stuffed toys, trains, airplanes and many other toys as well. Give them cars on one day of the week only. On other days, give them other types of toys. Now, when the next week comes, again give them cars for one day only. Giving cars after this interval of a few days will make them excited to play with cars. They won’t get bored. In fact, they will develop new ideas on how to play with cars. This is true for every type of toy. Try this trick and you’ll see the results for yourselves!

8. Keep Screens Away

How to encourage indepednent play: keep screens away
Say NO to screen!

Some parents include screen timing to encourage independent play in their kids. This is not a healthy option. Screen time inhibits the mental growth of the kids. They just become zombies looking at the screen continuously. Their creativity and problem-solving talents are snubbed. What’s worse is that they become addicted to screen time. This thing, in itself, becomes greatly problematic with the passage of time.

9. Set Realistic Boundaries

Your kids should know clearly what they are not allowed to do during independent play. For small kids and babies, you can simply put the related toys within their vicinity. However, big kids (such as 4 years old and so on) need rules. For example, they should be clear that they cannot use items like glue, scissors, spoons, etc. while playing. Similarly, if you do not want them to go outside while playing, tell them straight-forwardly.

10. Give Attention Post-Playtime

Now this is something that most of us miss when we talk about how to encourage independent play in kids!!!

During their playtime, kids engage in activities and tasks. They invest their time, energy and creativity. They think that they have done something incredible. The feelings of accomplishment are very strong at such times. They feel like they have conquered a world.

At the end of playtime, kids come to parents (mostly mothers) to show them what they have done. This is the time when you should be available to your kids completely. Praise and encourage them as much as you can! Indulge yourself in understanding what the kids are telling you. This will boost their confidence and creativity. This is a form of extrinsic motivation for the kids!


All in all, there are many ways to encourage independent play in kids. It all depends on the parents that how much can they invest! Things may become a little difficult at first. But believe me! Once your child grasps the essence of playing independently your life will be mush more easier and calmer. And your kids will become more fun rather than a nuisance for you. It’s simply a win-win for parents and kids equally!!!

We would be very happy to hear from you on the comments sections of our Facebook page. You can also visit our Quora page. Feel free to leave your comments and queries about how to encourage independent play in babies.

About The Author

Affaf Amjad

Having an MPhil in Applied psychology and being a mother of three kids, I have always tried to try and test different psychological interventions and approaches in the day-to-day routine of my kids. Sharing my results and effective strategies with parents around the globe is the my main aim as a writer.

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