There are many great reasons to have your child play independently each day. Come find out why independent playtime is so beneficial to your child!
I have said it many times, and I will say it many more. If there were just one principle I could take from Babywise, it would be independent play.
Many moms have difficulty with getting independent play going for their children at some point, especially those oldest children.
As an oldest child myself, I can assure you all that we love the attention of those around us and it absolutely drives us crazy to miss a minute of the action. So it is understandable that the oldest is a little reluctant to embrace independent play.
Benefits of Independent Playtime
There are so many benefits. On Becoming Babywise II lists several of these benefits on page 73:
- Mental Focusing Skills
- Sustained Attention Span
- Self-Play Adeptness
I have definitely seen all of these benefits in my children. People around me have seen it, too. I get a lot of questions that basically ask, “What do you do?” I will explain things. The most intriguing to people is the independent playtime. “Do you think I could get my six year old to do that? She won’t leave my side.”
The focusing skills and sustained attention span are strikingly apparent. My children will play with one toy for a really long time. Kaitlyn, at not even age 2, will play with one toy longer than it takes the average four year old to go through an entire backpack of toys–twice.
Read: How To Get Your Child to Happily Play Alone
Both children are and have always been this way. I get a lot of comments about, especially from women I know who are elementary school teachers. They know the benefit of this ability and are impressed by it in children so young.
This is such a nice ability to have when you are out in public. You can bring a few toys to entertain your child, rather than half of the toy room :).
If you are a mom who hovers, you will also see many benefits from independent play. I am a mom who hovers. I interfere too much and too quickly. I don’t let the child figure things out on their own.
I have gotten a lot better over the years, but I still have to remind myself to hold back. With independent play, my children are able to work on things without mom hovering and fixing all of their difficulties for them.
There is also something about independent play that just creates a happier, more obedient child. When Brayden doesn’t get his independent play, he is more emotional and more likely to disobey.
One of my best friends also follows Babywise and has a son about 9 months younger than Brayden. We will often get together for playdates, but we both always say we need to do it after independent play so our sons will be on their best behavior.
Read: Independent Playtime Lengths
After independent play, we clean up the toys. This has helped my children to see that everything has a place and helps them to know where things go. They also can see the benefits from cleaning up. Things feel more peaceful and relaxing when they are orderly, and I think the children come to see that as they routinely clean up toys.
Both of my children will even clean up toys before they get new ones out during independent play at times. Brayden (3.5) will often clean up all of his toys before I go get him (he can read clocks–he knows the times that are pertinent to his life).
Independent Playtime Benefits for Mom
Beyond all of the benefits for the child, there are benefits for Mom. You don’t need to feel guilty about having benefits. We already know there are great benefits for the child.
When the child has independent play, you have time to get things done you need to. It also gives both of you a break from each other. As much as you both love each other, it is good to take breathers.
When you as the mom are able to get things done you need to, you can then dedicate one-on-one time to your child fully. You are also more refreshed, less stressed, and able to enjoy your children more.
Real Life Example
When Brayden, my oldest, was 2.5, we tried potty training. During that time, we didn’t do independent play so that I could watch him and help him go on the potty.
What a change that overtook him! I have always known it was good for him. When he doesn’t have independent play every once in a while, he will get a little ornery. For over a year and a half, we haven’t missed independent play for more than a couple of days in a row (while on vacation), and he often tried to give it to himself by going off on his own to play somewhere.
During this time off of solo playtime, his behavior morphed. He has always been confident and independent. He never minds being left with a babysitter. He is happy and generally obedient. My little boy changed before me. We went to the library and he about lost it if he couldn’t see me. He would cling to my legs and cry for me. He was very unhappy. It seemed he was experiencing separation anxiety for the first time in his life! He also was not as obedient and seemed to be able to focus less.
It is important to note that some of this behavior could be explained by the fact that he wasn’t confident in using the potty. But as soon as we reinstituted solo playtime, he was back to his old self.
So if you are having difficulty getting independent playtime instituted at your house, stick with it. The benefits are well-worth your effort!
Independent Playtime Benefit in Action
Just before Brayden turned 3, Brayden woke up at 4:45 AM. He was sick and had thrown up in his bed. Since he is a sun riser, I raced like a mad-woman to get this bed cleaned up and remade before the sun came up and signaled daytime to him. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it. He kept telling me he had already gone to bed and it was daytime.
He was obviously tired. We started our day officially at the normal time. I put him in independent playtime when it was time. When I went to get him from independent playtime, he was asleep on the floor. He had taken a pillow and blanket off his bed and had taken a little nap. He then took his afternoon nap as usual when it was time.
This is something I love about independent playtime. If Brayden is tired because of sickness or a growth spurt, he will just take a nap during that time. If he were around people, he would never do that, and he isn’t the type to ask for a nap. But if he is alone, he will choose to nap if he needs it.
So keep at it and keep implementing it. If you haven’t started yet, do so. It is well worth your efforts, for so many reasons.
I hope you can see that there are many great benefits to independent play. It can seem like an unlikely skill if your child is older, but you can do it. If your child is a baby, work on it and maintain your consistency. This will not be a skill you live to regret teaching. It is well worth your time and effort.
- How To Start Independent Playtime Late
- How To Get Your Baby Playing Independently
- Independent Playtime: The Ultimate Overview
- Resistance to Independent Playtime
Reader Independent Playtime Comments:
- Dana said…
I’m glad to see my little boy isn’t the only one who loses it when he misses roomtime. On the days he doesn’t get it, I feel like I’m am pulled in 20 directions, b/c he won’t leave me alone! When I first started playpen time I thought it would never work. I stuck with it, though and am grateful for it! I’m now teaching my daughter the value of playing on her. She is a momma’s girl and I need the time as much as she does.
February 14, 2008 11:54 AM
My friend’s little boy is the same way. We will get together for “play dates”–we both say we need solo playtime first so our boys will be happy :).
February 15, 2008 10:36 AM
- Marci said: I started pack n’ play time when my son was very small and for various reasons did not keep up with it. When my son was 2 1/2 I decided I needed to try independent playtime. My only child wanted me to do everything with him. I didn’t know how it would go because he is so active, but I started by playing with him in his room. After about 2 weeks I left him by himself for 10 min, then 15 and it only took about a month and he was at 1 hour easy. Now age 3 he is well adjusted and needs that independent time.
- Metro Detroit Photographer said: Hi, we just started playpen time two days ago and my son (9 months) HATES it! He screamed for 10 minutes the first day and today as soon as I set him down he realized what was happening and started screaming again. Any suggestions? Is this just something I have to deal with? I don’t want him to have a negative association with the playpen (especially since he sleeps in one with my inlaws while I’m at work), but I really think he needs solo time (as evidenced by his response!) Thanks!
- PwigglesMommy said: When my son was 8 months old we tried independent play time but he was very resistent and we didn’t have a consistent time everyday. Now he is thirteen months old and wants someone to hold him or sit on the floor and play with him all of the time. I really want to commit to establishing independent playtime every day but i don’t know if i should start with a playpen or should i start with room time. I know he will really fight it if I try the playpen on the main floor of our house. My three options would be to set up a playpen in our guest room, allow him room time in the guest room with a few toys and books, or room time in his room. What i am concerned about in his room is all of his clothes are in baskets on open shelves under the changing table. I have seen him try to remove the baskets and dump the clothes. We don’t have space right now for a dresser in there. I think the guest room current set up would work better. Since I am starting so late what would be the benefit to using a playpen first and then room time rather than just starting at room time.
Plowmanator said: PwigglesMommy, Your son is about the age of my son when we started late, and I did roomtime, but took it very slowly. There is a post that outlines that. The benefit to the playpen would be 1-some kids feel more secure in the playpen or 2-you know he is safe and not getting into anything. When they are older, they are better able to listen.
- Julie said: Thank you for your amazing blog! It has been quite helpful! We are currently transitioning from play pen to roomtime with our daughter’s (19 months old) independent playtime. She has done independent playtime since she was a baby, and has been fine in the play pen (30 min – 45 min, consistently). Now that we try to leave her in her room, she completely resists, usually crying at the door the whole time. Do you have any suggestions on how to make this transition? We have our second daughter coming in 3 months (whose crib will be the before-mentioned play pen), so would love to have this set before her arrival. :)Thank you!
- Lisa Valentine said: Hi there, my daughter is currently 14 months. She is my first.We have been following babywise since birth. Because of it we were able to enjoy the many benefits it brings having very little problems. The last 2 months have been very hard. She was having IP consistently since 6 months in our play yard. Only about 30 mins a day but I was content with that. As soon as my d turned 1 everything changed.. She REFUSES to do IP. Screams the whole time. She also is very clingy. She is happy to play by herself as long as I’m watching her but the second I start to do housework or anything for that matter she freaks out and just cries. I try to icnore her because some chorse just have to get done. And she will cry the whole time. She is definitely showing signs of separation anxiety. But loves people and is fine leaving me and playing with others. We have set plenty of boundaries and are strict I believe. So I just don’t know what we’re doing wrong! Any thoughts or suggestions?
Valerie said: Try having her do IPT in her room where she can’t see you at all.
Lisa said: Thanks for responding! I love this blog and am grateful for the help! While she has IPT I do stay in another room and try to not make a sound.The clingyness and me trying to do things around the house is just or normal our normal everyday struggle. She wants all of my attention. Back to IPT, I’ve been using the timer, but that doesn’t seem to be helping. Should I just stick it out and restart the process by trying for a small amount of time? Thanks Valerie!
Valerie said: Try engaging her in what you are doing at home. SoIf you are trying to cook and she is clingy, see of there is something she can help with or have her sit in her high chair and do something. Getting her used to IPT will help with that, also. I would stick it out and use a timer. A short time is good, but not so short that she won’t give playing a go. Some people say they had no progress with 5 minutes, but when they moved to 10 minutes, the child would start to play and enjoy it.
KHC said: My 10 month old has been experiencing SA for quite a few months now. He cries any time I leave the room. I’ve found that the only time he’ll play by himself is when he wakes up from his nap, and sometimes he’ll play up to 45 minutes. Can this count as independent play or should I be trying independent play in a playpen at another time instead?Thanks for all your help and encouragement!- KCH
Valerie Said: KCH,In some respects it can have benefit. He is entertaining himself. But, it isn’t gaining the fullest from independent play that he can. He isn’t being told by mommy directly that it is time to play. He doesn’t have toys with him to work on and problem solve. I would work with him slowly on official independent play. Start with 5 minutes a day and do that until he can do that happily. Work up from there. Be sure to see the others posts listed in this post. Don’t be discouraged; my son went through a period of hating independent play, but he quickly grew to love it and really would stay there all day if I let him 🙂
Heather said: Would you recommend setting the playpen up in the child’s bedroom so that when it is time for roomtime, they’ll be accustomed to being alone in their room? That is where mine is and I usually turn the monitor on so I can hear what she’s doing, as well as sneaking back to check on her quite a bit.
Valerie said: Heather,If that works for you, it sounds like a good idea. My daughter always had playpen time in my room, and has had her roomtime in her without a problem. It certainly shouldn’t hurt anything 🙂
Qylie said: My Kiddo was fine during independent play time – we started doing it when he was 3m old. He is now 9m old. For the last month everyday during independent time he cries NONSTOP. He will letup for maybe (maybe) 1 minute every 5minutes. I think I need to rename independent play to crytime. I have tried everything I can think of to make the experience better for him.
Valerie said: Has anything changed about independent play? Time, location, etc? Is he sick or teething? If everything is the same, the first thing I always look into if a child suddenly starts being upset with something is sickness or teething.