Teach Your Children How to Play Independently

6 Ways to Encourage Solo Play Time

A boy playing with blocks
Playing alone is good for your children. Photo © Cultura / Luc Beziat / Getty Images

Kids benefit from playing alone and the time they spend by themselves gives you some well-deserved downtime. Try these fun ways to encourage your child to play alone today:

1. Set Up a Kid-Friendly Space

Make sure the room where your child is playing is ready for individual play. Not only should you childproof the area, you should also put toys, games, stuffed animals and books within reach.

When you're just getting started, it may help your child if you pull out one or two activities for them to try alone.

Instead of plopping them into a room and saying, "Play!," you can encourage them to focus on something specific during their play time. For children just learning how to play alone, this can also prevent them from becoming overwhelmed and frustrated at this new concept.

2. Find the Right Activities for Playing Alone

Parking kids on the couch to watch TV doesn't count as playtime. Find the right activities to encourage them to play alone.

Use reading, music and indoor activities for independent play. Encourage imaginative play to expose them to a whole new world they create on their own. Pick out new activities every month and make note of the ones they enjoy the most. Explore learning activities they can dig into by themselves. You'll have more success teaching them how to play alone if you give them the right activities.

3. Stay in the Room

Playing alone doesn't mean kids must be in a room by themselves.

You can stay in the same room together while still encouraging them to play by themselves.

Sit on one side of the room reading a magazine while they play on the other side of the room. Give them an easy painting project to try in the kitchen while you empty the dishwasher.

As they get used to playing alone while you're present, you can start to give them short activities they can enjoy when you're not in the room.

Eventually, you can increase their individual play time so they're spending more time playing alone.

4. Make it a Routine

Kids should play alone every day. Make their independent playtime a part of your family's daily routine with no exceptions.

Come up with a name for that block of your day, such as "quiet time." Once you establish a time they will play alone, stick to it.

Making "quiet time" a part of your routine gets them into the habit of playing alone every day. They can count on this time and so can you.

5. Set a Time Limit

Some kids have a harder time with independent play than others. Start by setting a time limit on how long your child should play alone. Use a timer and explain what you expect her to do during that time frame.

"Play with your dolls for the next 10 minutes. When the timer rings, we'll play a game together."

Over time, your child will get the hang of playing alone without having to be instructed on what to do. You can increase the time interval by a few minutes each week until she becomes so engaged in play, she doesn't need the timer anymore.

6. Be Flexible

There will be some days that no matter how hard you try, your child will simply refuse to play alone. You want to encourage your child to play alone and giving into her demands that she will absolutely not play by herself today will only show her that she can do this again tomorrow.

Pretty soon, she won't be playing alone anymore.

On those days she refuses to play alone, change up the routine. Let her play in the backyard while you sit in a chair outside and read a book. Give her a compromise that you will play dolls with her after she's had time to play by herself. Let her set up a tea party by herself and then invite you to join in after a set time.

Be flexible but stick toward your goal of getting her to play alone. You'll soon have an independent child who doesn't always have to have someone to play with to be a happy kid.