Benefits of Independent Play

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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!

Girl playing with blocks independently

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
  • Creativity
  • Self-Play Adeptness
  • Orderliness

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 benefits of having your child play independently each day. Independent play | #playtime

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!

Conclusion

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.

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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
    Plowmanators said…
    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.

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14 thoughts on “Benefits of Independent Play”

  1. I started late with this and we’re starting gradually with my 13 month old. We currently do 12 minutes twice a day. She’s getting better at it and though I haven’t noticed any huge benefits for her yet, the benefits for me are amazing. She does it while I’m making dinner and I can get so much done in those few minutes while I don’t have to worry about watching her. Thank you for your encouragement to add this to our day!

    Reply
  2. I finally started doing independent playtime with my son when he was 16 mo (18 mo now) and it is wonderful! He loves to go in his room and play and will usually play for an hour and fifteen minutes. When I say, “It is time to go to your room and play,” he is happy and eager for me to get out the toys and then wants me to leave! It is been great for me because I can get so much done. Thanks for continuing to recommend this important skill!

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  3. Hi, thanks so much for your very helpful blog! I have a question about 3-4 month sleep problems. I have a 15.5 week old son who, the past 2 nights, has been waking up twice in the middle of the night (once around 1:30 am, another around 4:30 am). The first wake-up, he hasn’t been hungry and has gone back to sleep, but the second time, he is hungry. He previously was sleeping from 9:45 pm (I was moving the DF back) to 7:30 am consistently. His naps have also been disrupted, and he is waking up after about 30 minutes and not going back to sleep for all naps except his first. I am treating it as a growth spurt and hoping to just get through it, although he did already have his 3 month growth spurt around 11-12 weeks. He is still on a 3 hour schedule but has been VERY distracted while eating, and I am having a really hard time getting him to nurse for more than 15 minutes or so – he just purses his lips and looks away. (He previously nursed about 25-30 minutes.) Could this be an eating problem rather than a sleeping one? Might it help to extend his schedule? (It would be really hard, since his naps are so short!) Also, last night I tried DFing later – around 10:30 pm – to see if it would help him sleep longer at night, but it didn’t. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks,Lauren

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  4. I have been wondering where to post this suggestion and question, and this feed just makes sense. First of all, I love independent playtime! My twins are only 6 months old, but they have had independent time since they were about a month old. They are so good at it, and they really seem to enjoy it.Since they don’t crawl yet I have them do their playtime in their room with a play gym (a mat with a toy bar that hangs over it). I love these things. They were a gift from my father-in-law, and I’m so glad we have them. They are really bright and colorful, and they zip up to store in a really small space. We got them when my boys were 3 months old, and they still love to play with them (I switch the boys between the two each day since they have different toys). I would really recommend them to anyone who doesn’t have a lot of money or space but wants a way for their little one to enjoy independent playtime.Both my boys will play happily for 30 minutes which means I can unload and load the dishwasher everyday! (I was a first grade teacher for three years before I had my boys, and some of my 6 and 7 year old students couldn’t concentrate on something for 30 minutes!) I love to listen outside their room to the happy sounds they make, especially when they figure out how to start the music on gym. :)I know my boys will eventually learn to crawl and need a safe place to continue independent playtime. The problem is we don’t have a lot of room in our apartment, and we only have one play yard. I want them to still have their independent time at the same time so I can get my “loud chores” done. Would it be okay for them to play in their cribs, or would that confuse them when it was time for naps? Thanks again for this great blog!

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  5. How would you recommend starting late? I did independent play with my 2 1/2 year old when he was a baby, but it slowly disappeared. He still plays fairly well on his own, but lately wants me close by. That may have to do with the new baby in the house, but I’d like to get independent play going. I’m just not sure how to start with one so old. Thanks.

    Reply
  6. Sorry, one more question. I just read the 7 independent playtime posts. For room time would you recommend determining what your kid plays with and having that be the only thing in the room? Or offer them to choose something (or a couple things) and limit it? Or do you keep a store of toys in Brayden’s room? Thanks again!

    Reply
  7. My girls are now eight and six years old, but I instituted independent play when they were very young and found it to be extremely helpful. To this day, they both play well alone and can entertain themselves for a good period of time. I can identify with being a mother who “hovers” and am glad I used Babywise principles to help my children develop in the area of independent play.

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  8. You are welcome Jennifer! I remember that feeling. I was amazed at what I could do with those extra 15 minutes at first!

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  9. Lauren, eating and sleeping problems can often be intermingled. Growth spurts happen every 4-6 weeks supposedly, so he is on track for another one.This is an age when they usually get to be much more efficient nursers, so he might just be done after 15 minutes. I would continue to treat it as a growth spurt and if things don’t improve, move on to other possible problems. See this post for guidance:Naps: Troubleshooting: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2007/12/naps-troubleshooting.html

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  10. Kristi,Thanks for all of your suggestions!I think it is totally fine to have one of them in the crib each day. I would be sure to move the matress to its lowest level for safety. Then you can just be sure to have a different “routine” leading up to naps/bed vs. independent play, which should be no problem. Kaitlyn took naps in the playard every day, and also had independent play in the playard every day. She never had a problem.

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  11. Kristin, My ideas for starting late are outlined in the Independent Play post. Did you see that one?My kids have independent play in their rooms. Brayden’s room has most of the toys we own in it. We have most of the toys out of sight, so he doesn’t visually see every toy, but there are in there and he knows it. We have the toys in cupboards. It is hard to explain, but they are cupboards. I will open a cupboard or two and rotate it. Some days I open nothing. We always get his trucks out every day. So he has access to all of his toys, but doesn’t play with all of them every day (or realy even a portion).Kaitlyn’s is more directed by me. She doesn’t have a lot of toys in her room. I will get one or two toys from Brayden’s room and put them in her room for the day. I rotate through them. Then she has some other toys in there. I always give her several books because she just loves to sit and look at books.

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  12. I'm sure you have posted this somewhere but I'm having issues finding it :o) Do you have suggestions on how to incorporate independent playtime for parents who both work full time? I feel like our time is so limited as it is together – coming home by 5/5:30, dinner 6-6:30, some family time together, then bath, bed by 7:30. Not to mention the nights we have activities like swim. Weekends are definitely an option, but is indep playtime 2x/week 'consistent' enough? Weekends being full of things to do as well, can the time shift as long as the 'mommy decides' concept is in place?

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