Roomtime: Structured Playtime Alone for Kids

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Learn all about what roomtime is, where to have quiet playtime, and how to implement this structured playtime alone with your child. 

Child playing in room

I always say one of my favorite aspects of the Babywise method is doing Independent Playtime. This time alone brings so much value and benefit to the life of the child, the mom’s day, and the peace of the whole family. 

You start Independent Playtime in a crib or playpen. As your child gets older, it is time to move on to a larger space. 

>>>Read: Starting Independent Playtime Late

When parents are moving from playpen time to roomtime (both forms of independent playtime ), they often have questions about how to do this.

Roomtime is essentially the same thing as independent playtime, just with larger boundaries (a room rather than a playpen).

On Becoming Babywise II says you will move to roomtime between 18-22 months (page 76).

With both of my older two children, I moved much earlier. Brayden started roomtime around 14-15 months. Kaitlyn started it at 12 months.

McKenna, my third child, was in the 18-22 month range. I tried to move her earlier, but she was not happy with that and preferred the playpen.

Exactly when you move your child to roomtime is up to you. Base it on the child’s ability to handle the freedom. 

What is Roomtime

Roomtime is a structured activity. Mom decides when it starts, not the child.

If your child is the type to wander into his room and play on his own for 45 minutes, this is not roomtime.

Roomtime is when mom decides that it is time for roomtime and the child willingly complies.

Roomtime is not a free-for-all. The child doesn’t get to do whatever he wants to. If he is doing things in his room that you find inappropriate, you should stop it. What is inappropriate? That is up to you. You are the parent.

>>>Read: Great Toys to Encourage Independent Playtime

Here are some basics to remember about what roomtime is:

  • Structured learning time
  • Something the parent decides. Mom decides when and where this happens–but that means mom has great responsibility for finding out when and where is the best time for it to happen. This means you tell your child when roomtime starts. Your child running off to play alone for an hour when he feels like it does not equate to roomtime.
  • Child plays alone
  • It is the extension of playpen time
  • A gate might be necessary (or the shutting of the door) initially
  • Eventually, you want the child to stay in his room without physical restrictions. For my older two, this happened as three year olds.

What Isn’t Roomtime

Sometimes it as helpful to point out what something isn’t as much as it is to discuss what it is. Here is what it isn’t:

  • A time to “ransack the room” (Toddlerwise 150). This doesn’t mean your child won’t. Each child is unique. Brayden made little to no mess and usually cleaned up all of his toys right before I got him out of roomtime. Kaitlyn played with the toys before her and created a mess you would expect to see. Initially, McKenna made little to no mess, but then she went through a “tornado phase” when she got great pleasure in making messes wherever she stood–so of course roomtime turned into “ransack” time. It lasted 2-4 weeks and she then she moved to a normal sized mess.
  • For more on this, see the post Independent Playtime Is Not…
Girl in a pink dress sitting on the floor

Why Bother With Roomtime

Getting your kiddo to play alone is not always easy. It can help your resolve to remember why you are focused on it.

“Yielding to parental instruction as standard behavior is part of the learning structure you’re attempting to establish. The self-control inherent in obedience is the same self-control that advances the child in other disciplines” (Toddlerwise page 151).

Here you are developing so many skills, one of the greatest being self-control.

Self-control is, in my opinion, one of the hardest qualities to master in life.

Think about adults. Who do you know who lacks self-control when it comes to finances? Do you know anyone who lacks self-control in eating habits?

Know someone with a temper (other than your toddler)? Compulsive shopper? Gossiper? Procrastinator? The list goes on.

Self-control is not easy. Giving a child the opportunity to exercise this skill is a great gift.

If self-control is achieved, you are setting your child up to be a healthier, kinder, more stable, more patient, better student, etc etc etc of a person than he would be otherwise.

See why I sing the praises of Independent Playtime constantly?

How To Do Roomtime

A common question I get is about a gate or shutting the door. I shut the door at first for roomtime. If you don’t want the door shut, you can do a child safety gate. Once your child is able to handle the door being open, you can leave it open if you want to. You know your child can handle it if he stays in his room with it open.

Brayden (3.5) will happily play in his room with the door open, but still to this day he usually prefers it to be shut. Brayden and Kaitlyn have roomtime at the same time, and their rooms are right next to each other, so it is better for the doors to be shut. Then they don’t have the temptation and distraction of playing with each other during this independent playtime.

You want this to be a time when your child can “focus and play independently without having someone or something there to ‘entertain’ him” (On Becoming Toddlerwise, page 48).

>>>Read: How to Get Your Child to Play Happily Alone

Where is Roomtime

Roomtime can be in a bedroom. Roomtime can also be in a location other than the child’s bedroom (Babywise II, page 76).

Remember, it is just playpen time with extended boundaries, so it can be anywhere you deem appropriate.

Find what is convenient for you. Make sure it is safe for your child. Read all of my tips on a Room Time Set Up here. 

My choice was always the child’s room. I know it is a child-safe room without me right there telling them what they can and cannot do.

Not all people can do bedrooms–you might have a sleeping child in the bedroom or the bedroom isn’t a safe room to play in.

In those cases, simply choose another location. The room does not fundamentally matter.

What is the Best Age for Roomtime

Through looking at the -wise books, the suggested age for roomtime (instead of playpen time) is 18-22 months. On Becoming Toddlerwise says 18-20 months old (page 150). Babywise book II says 18-22 months old (page 76).

There will, of course, always be exceptions to this general age suggestion.

Brayden started roomtime around 14 months because we started independent playtime late. Plus he was a big mover, and I think in general, big movers are going to be happier with a move to roomtime earlier than the sitting-type.

Kaitlyn moved over at 12 months. The reason for this, though, was that the floorspace in her room was not much larger than a playpen would be, and this way I could lazily not set up the playpen and take it down every day.

McKenna was just turning 20 months old when we finally had roomtime success. It scared her at first for some reason, but she was ready at 20 months.

Brinley was also quite young. I don’t remember exactly how old she was, but I do know from looking through her summaries that she was younger than 18 months old.

Here is a key point: “It is important to increase a child’s boundaries as the child develops” (Toddlerwise page 151).

Don’t wait too long to start roomtime or you will greatly frustrate your child.

Also, don’t start it before your child has developed to the appropriate point.

This quote is very applicable not only in roomtime, but in all aspects of parenting. You let go of control over time and give the child more freedoms. Hard? Absolutely. But part of growing up.

Conclusion

Roomtime is the continuation of what you started with Independent Playtime. It is amazing and very useful for years to come, so hang on to this excellent parenting tool!

Related Posts

Reader Questions

Grant and Jenni asked:
My son is 20 months old and has been doing playpen time ever since I began staying at home (about 12 months). I switched to roomtime with a gate, but he just ransacked his room and got very upset that I had left him. I tried putting his playpen in his room instead, thinking he wasn’t ready, but he just thew all his toys out. Any advice?

Babywise Mom said:
Grant and Jenni, I think that is pretty normal behavior for the new freedom of being in the room on his own. I would explain to him what he can and cannot do (over and over). When he has done something he shouldn’t (like, when McKenna pulled every wet wipe out of her container…) tell him “that’s a no” and have him help clean up–but don’t make the cleaning up seem like a punishment, just what happens when you make a mess. You clean up after yourself.

Miranda asked:
‘Been wanting to ask a question, but was prompted by today’s post. My son has been doing independent play since 6 months, blanket since 12, and roomtime since 18 months. He’s now 2, but I HATE roomtime. We do 30 minutes, 4 times a week (no weekends and I work one day a week), and he prefers to sit and suck on his fingers rather than play. He stays in his room with no physical barriers (always has), does not make a mess, and knows he can only come out to go to the bathroom. I don’t allow him to suck on his fingers when I’m around (and he doesn’t), but he sees roomtime (and naptime) as his opportunity. I’ve sat outside his room and corrected him verbally when I hear him sucking; I’ve put gloves on him as a reminder (this just makes him cry the whole time); I’ve switched up his toys, but to no avail. Any advice? I’m due with #2 in June and would like to use roomtime as a nursing time… but don’t know how to handle the policing. (FYI, he’s never liked roomtime/independent play…it’s not a new development for him not to play)

Babywise Mom said:
Miranda, honestly, I wouldn’t worry about the finger sucking during roomtime. Work on it when he is out of his room, but when he is in his room at this age, I wouldn’t worry about it.

Katy asked:
Have your kids ever gotten upset about the door being closed? Did you just ignore it or go in & remind them what that time is for?I did babywise for developing a sleep schedule, but not really for anything else. My daughter is 23 months & I’ve been trying for about 6 weeks to teach independent play. I’ve set a timer that she can hear from her room and showed her what she can play with. I explained what we were doing and even offered a reward for staying in her room until the timer went off. I think it’s happened once. I know she’s capable of entertaining herself – she just watns me to be in the room. Yesterday I spent 30 minutes in her room switching out clothes & she happily played by herself that whole time.Any advice?

Babywise Mom said:
Katy, My kids don’t mind the door being closed. Since she hasn’t had to play alone for so long, I would expect that she will take some time to get to being happy playing alone. 

Vita asked:
My question is also of similar nature to others. My son cries any time i leave him alone in the room. Interestingly, it didn’t bother my to CIO to teach him to go to sleep, but it’s harder for me with roomtime. is it normal for them to cry so hard? He is 21mo and is in daycare 5days a week. is it worth it to start roomtime on the weekends? Thanks a lot!

Babywise Mom said:
Vita, I don’t know if I would do it for just two days a week; I don’t know if you would make enough progress in two days. I would start it from a baby age in that situation, but I don’t know if you will really b able to make progress in two days. But a timer can work for a lot of kids, so setting a timer might help.

Kim asked:
I have been doing independent play with my daughter since she was just a couple months old and she is now two. I have kind of stopped for awhile because she takes all her clothes out of the bottom two drawers and anything else she can get a hold of. She has plenty of toys and books to play with but as soon as the door is closed, she goes straight to the drawers. I’ve told her no and make her help pick them up, but she still does it almost every time. This has been going on for several months whenever I decide to try independent play. Any suggestions?

Babywise Mom said:
Kim, McKenna was similar. It really just took time to outgrow. I had to be consistent for a month or two of telling her not to do certain things and we had a big mess to clean up. She did eventually stop doing it. So I would suggest you just keep it up and stay consistent and she will get it.

This post originally appeared on this blog March of 2009 and April 2011

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33 thoughts on “Roomtime: Structured Playtime Alone for Kids”

  1. My son, 13 month old loves his playtime in his playpen. It is fun for me to come back and see what he’s been doing and how he has played with his toys in different ways. I can see he’s really thinking, learning and having fun.Not meaning to be gross, but one funny thing to mention is that my son often poops while he’s in his alone play–recently, even when alone play was at a different time than normal. I guess the quiet time and concentration of being by himself helps him get the job done. 🙂

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  2. Erin,My daughter (who is now 4) did the same thing when she was little. We often had to schedule independent time even when we were at grandma’s house or on vacation if we wanted her to stay healthy. :)I like to do room time still for my 4 year old and playpen time for my 5 month old while I fix dinner. Then I can enjoy myself and feel like I can focus.On a side note, I still have blanket time for my 4 year old sometimes. Often when she is having an “off” day and we are really struggling with self-control, it is a good reminder of who makes the decisions in our house.

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  3. Ladies, Anyone have suggestions on what to do with roomtime while potty training? My 20 month old is doing great with potty training, but when she is in roomtime, she will go in her panties…Erin she has always went when she had playpen time too haha! I tried cutting the roomtime time in half, doing 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in afternoon, but she still goes in her panties…any ideas?

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  4. Valerie,do you consider independant playtime (or roomtime) to be when there is no parent around? Typically my daughter will play with hubby in the room, but she will play quietly by herself… or is this called “free play”? she is 22 months… how do you approach starting this? do you just say, “ok, time to go play in your room?” and how long is room time?my daughter typically has “alone” time while hubby is cooking dinner and i’m at work. is that sufficient?

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  5. Christie- When we first started potty training with our daughter (now 3) we still did roomtime for the full time but we put her in a diaper for it. We explained to her what was happening and she went right into to underpants after roomtime. At first she pooped in her diaper everytime in roomtime (which was ok since we were doing pee training first) but after a while we put a potty in her room and let her take off her diaper and to use it if she wanted to. At first she didn’t but soon she did and then we put her in underpants and it worked great. I thought about skipping roomtime when we were first potty training but she needed it even more with the new challenge during the rest of the day of potty training. Hope that helps.Kerri

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  6. Christie,With Brayden, he would call out to me when he needed to go. But I can’t get Kaitlyn to do that. So at first I tried her without a diaper or panties, but she doesn’t like that. So for now, I do a diaper with her for independent play. It hasn’t interefered with any progress with potty training. I am hoping as she gets older, she will start to call out to me when she needs to go.

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  7. Julia,Independent play needs to be alone. What she is doing is either free playtime or a form of structured playtime, depending on who is choosing what she is playing with. See the blog label “independent play” for ideas on getting it started. Let me know if you have further questions 🙂

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  8. My 14 month old has suddenly become resistant to independent play. He used to love it! Everything was fine until he was without it for about a week since were were moving. Now that we are settled in our new house, he hates it. I put him in his playpen and he screams. I don't know if this is related to the inconsistency the last week, a new house, or maybe that it means he should change to roomtime? What do you think?

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  9. LEM,These situations are hard because you don't know exactly what it is. Pretoddlerwise says to not move to roomtime before your child is ready. By that age, both Brayden and Kaitlyn had roomtime. That is a possibility.I would doubt that it is so much that you didn't have independent play for a week so much as everything being new and different. I would do it for a shorter time. Use a timer. And work up more time as he is ready.

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  10. My son is almost 14 months old. I have followed babywise from day 1…everything except playpen time. He does free play, playtime w/mom (or dad, grandparents,etc.)and structured play. I've just never stuck to playpen or blanket time… He has become very attached the past few months, not playing well on his own unless someone is in the room or really close by. I wanted to start up roomtime because his room is totally safe for him to play in on his own and I have a baby gate so I can keep the door open. It it too much to jump to roomtime without consistantly doing playpen time beforehand?

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  11. Kelly,No, I moved to roomtime with my oldest without having consistent playpent time, too. I also did it at 14 months. You can see how I did this here:https://www.babywisemom.com/2008/01/independent-playtime.html

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  12. Most all of my 19 month old son's toys and books are in his room at a level he can reach. For roomtime/solo playtime, should I pick only a few of these toys for him to play with or let him have free reign with them?Thank you!Becca

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  13. Becca, it is up to you. I don't move my kids toys at all. They tend to focus on a few toys and forget about the rest. I personally wouldn't want to rearrange the entire room, but if you want to, you can 🙂

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  14. My daughter always had Independent Playtime in her crib. It used to be nap time, but then she stopped sleeping, and at that point I allowed her to pick a special toy she wanted in her crib with her and she would sit in there quietly and happily for an hour and play. Circumstances, such as moving twice in 1 summer!, and babysitting have led to no more "crib time", but I really want to start implementing this again. Due to her age (a little over 2 1/2), I presume Roomtime would be more age-appropriate. I am seeking some suggestions as to how to do this because I babysit a little boy EVERY morning for a few hours, so I'm not quite sure this will be that productive when she knows he's out here playing with all "her" toys, etc. I guess I could just figure it like it was just a sibling though? I'm just not sure I'll be able to keep the little boy from going to her room, asking for her to come out, and just making everything worse. (It's always harder to "discipline" other's kids). This is a temporary arrangement, but I'm not sure how long it's going to be. I've been contemplating whether or not I should wait until he's not here anymore to start, but since I'm not exactly sure of the end date, I don't want too much more time to pass. I've found things are always harder to implement the older they get! My daughter will be 3 in January, so I feel like the clocks ticking! Any suggestions? Thanks!!

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  15. My daughter is 17 months and I've just started with roomtime (pretty late I know…). I have a question about it, is it okay that she plays with whatever toy she finds? At first I thought it should be with toys that I picked out, but it's kind of hard to limit her play to a couple of toys if she's in her room. I don't have locks on the toy boxes… 🙂 What do you say?Thanks!

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  16. Stephanie,You might be able to work it in to the afternoon sometime, though most kids do better with it in morning. I would put a door handle lock on the outside of her door so the boy couldn't get in, play some music and have her play. It won't be the whole time he is there. You could even try putting him in a different room and do it for him at the same time if he will. It might be worth the effort if he is around for a while 🙂

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  17. Rebecca,I don't worry about them playing with what they want to. I would always get out a few toys I wanted them to play with so they will at least start with that. As Brayden's attention span increased, he would focus on one or two toys the whole time. But initially, they jump around a lot. It sounds like your toys aren't all out in the open, which will help. Just get some toys out and she might stick with that–at least for most of the time.

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  18. I started my son, Colin, with roomtime at about 13 months old – he is now almost 15 months old. He is completely happy to play on his own in his room,with the door closed, for 40 minutes at a time now, which is wonderful! The only problem is that he tends to get into things that are not toys i.e. the laundry basket, the drawers filled with blankets, the DIAPER PAIL! I've started reviewing the 'No-s' and the 'Yes-es"in the room with him before I go, and that actually does a lot to keep him focused on the right things, but he's still getting into too much for my taste. How should I handle this? Should I go into the room as soon as I see him doing something that is a "No" (I don't have a video monitor, but I can look under the door). Should I stay in the room with him and verbally correct for a few days, until I think he understands? I'd LOVE your input. Thank you!

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  19. Of your ideas, I would stay in the room to help him learn.HoweverI would recommend you remove what you can that is problematic so you have only one or two nos. If you are leaving him in a room alone, you want to keep temptation to a minimum. Also, make sure his toys are interesting enough that he won't look for ways to entertain himself in his "nos"

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  20. Hi! My son is 13 months old and we have just started roomtime a few weeks ago. We have always done independent playtime, but just on a blanket, not in a playpen. Because of him wanting to move around, we decided it was time for roomtime. I always play with him in the room before leaving him. He cried the first few times, but only fusses for a few seconds now. My issue is that he never actually plays. He just stands at the door the entire time and waits for me to come back. Do you think this is an issue or do you think that he will eventually just go play? He LOVES playing in there otherwise and I know he loves those toys, he just won't go play with them after I leave. He stays in there for 15 minutes right now and does fine, I just want him to actually play and actually LIKE it! I would love any suggestions! thanks so much!

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  21. oh yeah, he has also been following me around everywhere and doesn't like to be left in a different room unless it is by his choice. I have been trying to figure out if I sit and play with him too much or if he is just doing this, but it becomes hard when I go to other peoples' houses to help them with things and he wants me to sit with him the whole time or when I am meeting with people he wants my attention the whole time too. I don't feel like I have an unhealthy balance of time with him, but would love any suggestions! thanks again!

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  22. we did IP in a play-pen, until DS was about 10mo. then one day he started hating it to the point where he would throw up from crying. I had to stop it. DS is 16mo now and I would like to start roomtime. I've read all the posts and comments; i will use the timer, and start with short increments of time. My fear is that he will cry again. Just sob so hard, as if noone ever loved him in his whole life. Do you recommend I stay strong anyway, and pursue it?thanks so much,Vita

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  23. Kristin, it sounds like he would benefit from having independent play. I think I would try cutting out you playing with him before. If you want to do that (which is great) move it to after roomtime is over rather than before it starts. I always do independent play before the interactive play. For anyone extrovert, playing with people is more fun than alone, so if you start with the more fun, they won't want to do the less fun so much.Make sure you rotate toys so he stays interested. Then I would just get everything ready, cheerfully tell him to have fun, and leave. When he is done, go in and play with him, then clean up.

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  24. Vita, I think it is worth the effort to get independent play time going.But listen to your gut. You know your son best. Modify your approach to work for him and don't feel like you need to rush it. Brayden still has this every day at age 5, so it isn't like the clocking is running away without you. There is plenty of time for him to build up to liking this time.

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  25. Thank you, Val, for your supportive comment. I have another question. It might be off 'roomtime' topic, but I'm not sure where else to ask it.My 16mo would simply not sit still. (as I write this, it just sounds so ridiculous). Perhaps I shouldn't have an expectation of him sitting still, but I do. I do based on everything I've read in BW books and your blog.When I try to play with him, his attention span lasts about 10 seconds, at best. I've tried different things. 1. i would still continue the activity, in hopes that he would come around, but he doesn't. 2. force him to stay with me, but it results in a temper tantrum. 3. follow him to the next activity, hoping it would last longer, but it doesn't – another 10 seconds until he is off to something else. 4. minimize the number of visible toys, but then he just starts roaming the house looking bored or looking for house objects to grab and drop.He sits ok for meals in high chair. He is a good sleeper and can often entertain himself in the crib for an hour after a nap. He understands and respects "no". So in a lot of ways, he is a good "babywise" baby :-). And I believe in the concept so much. I'm just finding it impossible to even consider the possibility of blanket time or independent playtime, while his attention span is shorter than an ant's.I'm sure you've written about it in your blog, but for some reason I can't find it (btw, what happened to the search box?). Could you share your thoughts here and point me to the posts where you've talked about it?Thanks so much, Val. You are a real inspiration and amazing help to me.Vita

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  26. Vita,Independent play really does a lot for building up the attention span, so once he has that going, it should help it improve.Another idea is to do an activity in his high chair. Start small with 5 minutes. Do the activity with him and slowly increase time and decrease your involvement. That will be some great structured activity time.The search box…it was making the site super slow, so I took it off. But if you go to the top left of the page, there is a different search box you can use.

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  27. Well…I am at a crossroad. Pretoddler-wise suggested 18-24 months before moving to roomtime and being the perfect listener I followed suit. My son is just now 18 months, and I am trying to transition him to roomtime. In one word…miserable! He has had packnplay time since he was about 4 weeks old. HE does well, as long as it is the same time each day (after breakfast) and doesn't see anyone. If he does, he loses it and will not stop crying until the buzzer goes off and I come to get him out. I have rotated toys and he seems pretty happy for 35-40 minutes each day. I have attempted to substitute the roomtime for the pack-n-play time (meaning…doing it at the same time, after breakfast.) I do have a babygate (due to the dogs who love to barge in!). I have tried the babygate and the door, both shut or just one shut. I have to hide out, so my son can't see me. He wails!!!! The longest I have let him go is 10 minutes of him screaming at the top of his lungs. I don't know what to do. I lose out on that morning time and he loses out on important time for his development. HE has never been clingy and has recently entered that stage. (better than most his age)Any suggestions for me? Just let him cry it out??? For longer? Same amount of time? We are going on two weeks with absolutely no improvement and I have actually started to bounce from pack n play to roomtime, simply so he and I will get some time alone.Thank you,Courtney

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  28. Are there guidelines for lengths of independent play time after 20 months? Do you keep it at 60 mins or does it increase?

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  29. I keep it at about one hour. You could maybe do 1.5 hours if your child super loves it and you struggle with activities in the day.

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  30. I have had trouble recently with Independent playtime. My son and daughter (twins) had been doing it successfully since about 12 months, my daughter is in her crib and my son is in a pack and play in our guest room. About a week ago he started crying everytime I put him in and would cry the whole time I was gone. I thought maybe he was ready for Roomtime so I cleared the room and got it ready with new toys, put the pack and play mattress on the ground and the first day stayed and played a few minutes then set a timer and left. He screamed and cried the whole time I was gone. I have tried a gate at the door for a few days and he cried, I also tried shutting the door and he still just screams. I still have music playing but the last 3-4 days he still cries the whole time. If I am in there he will play happily but as soon as I say I am going to be right back he gets clingy and starts crying. When I come back he seems to get back to playing again but I don't know what to do???

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