Sometimes we feel the need to fill our children’s days with activities, so they don’t feel bored or so we don’t feel neglectful! There is so much on offer to entertain children, it’s easy to forget the true miracle that is independent play. Independent play is really really important for your little one’s development, not to mention for your sanity too!

Let’s explore the benefits of independent play and how to encourage it…

Playing independently is a skill and one which needs practice, patience and an enabling environment to master. You might find your child asks you to play with them a lot. We will explore this later but please don’t feel guilty if you don’t enjoy playing, many of us don’t. We actually aren’t always our children’s best playmates and it’s certainly not our job to be their entertainer 24/7. Children are the experts in play, they are much better than us, we can actually end up limiting their play with our mature knowledge of the world.

So why is independent play so beneficial?

  • Independent play is unstructured and, although children can benefit from structured parts of their day, they also need unstructured play to allow them to create things, invent things and go places they might not have been able to go through the more structured parts of their days. This unstructured time allows children to absorb, consolidate and makes sense of all that they have learnt during the more structured parts of their day. 
  • Independent play gives children the chance to develop resilience by being able to try things out without the fear of failure – there are no external sources telling you it’s right or wrong.
  • If a child manages to occupy themselves independently, it will increase their self-esteem. They can try new things and test their limits, increasing their confidence too!
  • Independent play helps you overcome boredom, we’ve all been hit with the dreaded ‘I’mmmmm borrrrrrrrrrrrrrredddddddddd’ scenario. Although it might not feel it at the time, boredom is brilliant! Children learn to initiate activities for themselves rather than relying on others to entertain them.
  • Independent play allows children to explore activities they really love. Helping them manage their own time and allowing them to be clear on their own individual interests – great for their mental wellbeing!

So, chances are you’re reading this because you have a hard time getting your children to play independently. And you’re not alone! Getting children used to this state of independence is the real challenge. When a child is used to having their time organised for them, it can be tricky to make that shift, but like anything, the more consistent you are with it, the easier it will get!

Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Make yourself more boring than the ‘boredom’ that they are currently feeling. ‘Im boreeeeeeed’ can be tiresome but the trick is to stay with it. Resist the urge to rescue them and let it be uncomfortable for 10 mins whilst you let your child figure it out. Show them that you have faith in them to figure it out by not swooping in with another toy or offer of entertainment. You can offer words of encouragement such as ‘you’ve got this and you can work it out’ or by just simply staying close. They will soon realise that independent play is much more fun than anything you have to offer!
  2. Try not to fear the mess! Of course REALLY messy play should be a more structured activity, but try to allow your child to get stuck into their independent play without commenting on the mess. The more you tidy up around them, the more you are getting in the way of this precious play. So try to leave them to it and set boundaries that tidying up will be a collaborative effort afterwards. 
  3. Remind yourself of the benefits of independent play. Don’t feel like leaving your child to play independently is a negative reflection of your parenting. It’s not our responsibility as parents to constantly entertain, but it should be our responsibility to support them to push through this uncomfortable feeling and explore the wondrous benefits of free unstructured independent play!
  4. Start small. Like anything, start small and work it up, don’t expect too much too soon – timers can be great for this!

I really hope this helps you see the benefits of independent play and gives you some handy tips on supporting your child with it. As always, please do not hesitate to contact me regarding any of the above if you need further support and I love hearing how you get on!