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I have a couple of posts that give information on what to do when starting late, but no one post that lays it out in a nice step-by-step process. I get enough questions on how to start late that I know my information is lacking, so here it is, a black and white “how-to” on starting Independent Playtime late. From here on out, let’s refer to Independent Playtime as IP. Ahh. Much faster to type.
Pick Your Time
The first step is to choose your time of day. I like mornings. Choose a time of day you know you can be consistent. I find that I am home in the morning hours most days. Consistency is such an integral part of success with IP, so choose a time you know you can stick with it.
You also want your child to be well-rested and not hungry.
If you have more than one child and will be doing sibling play, I find IP to work best if done before sibling play. Then they go from playing alone to playing with siblings rather than the other way around.
Choose The Location
Exactly where IP will happen will depend on your child’s age and maturity level. Any child under 12 months old who can move on their own at all (even by rolling) should be in a playpen. Most children stay in the playpen until at least 18 months old, though some (like two of mine) move to room time earlier. Most children two and older can handle being in a room instead of a playpen; however, if you are just starting IP, you might need to start with the playpen first until the child can do that happily, then move on to the room. Here are some location ideas based on age:
I do IP at the floor gym or on a blanket. I stay in the room with the child, but don’t interact at all. Since they can’t really see far and don’t look around the room, they don’t really realize you are there.
During this time period, you will want to transition to the playpen at some point. Feel it out with your child. I would say by 4 or 5 months, you want to be in the playpen at least some days. If your child doesn’t roll or move at all, you can still do days on a blanket so long as you are in the room supervising.
Stay in the playpen.
I think it is best for most to stay in the playpen. Kaitlyn moved out at 12 months, but not only is she incredibly mature for her age (was and is), her room was really not much larger than a playpen, anyway. Brayden started roomtime at 14 months. McKnena is 18 months old and still in a playpen.
This age range probably has a lot of variability. The -wise books suggest the child is still in the playpen at this age. But if you feel your child is able to handle roomtime, go for it. If your child is content in the playpen, stick with it.
18 Months-2 Years
Most will transition to roomtime sometime during this 6 month period
2 Years or Older
Room time for most. Some younger two year olds might still need the playpen.
Now, if your child is in a playpen, move the playpen into a room where he/she cannot see you. Kaitlyn did it in my room. McKenna’s playpen is in her room. Like one of the -wise books says (I think it is Babywise II), it is not fair to expect a child to play on her own in the playpen if she can see you.
If your child is ready for roomtime, it can be in any room so long as the room is safe. It can be a bedroom, den, family room, toy room…
Set The Stage
If your child is in a playpen:
- Add toys and books to the playpen. Not too many and not too little.
- I like to leave the child with a sippy cup of water if they are old enough to hold it and drink from it alone.
- I like to play children’s hymns. This isn’t necessary.
If your child is in a room:
- Make sure it is safe. I think the best way to do this is to sit in the room with your child while she plays. Observe what she does. Remove dangers.
- Again, I leave a sippy of water.
- I play children’s hymns or toddler tunes.
- Make sure there are age apporporiate toys available.
So you have your time of day chosen. You have your space prepared and ready. Now it is time to get started.
If your child is easy going and will play some on her own, start with 5-10, maybe even 15, minutes of you saying good bye and leaving her to play alone. As she gets used to it, move the time longer by 5 minutes every few days. See Independent Playtime Lengths to know how long to strive for, based on your child’s age and ability.
If your child is resistant to IP, you are going to have to take things more slowly. The history is outlined in more detail in the posts Independent Playtime and Resistance to Independent Playtime, but basically with Brayden, we did IP, then stopped. Then started up again at 14 months.
I started by playing with Brayden in his toy room at the designated time each day for 1-2 weeks. Over time, I started removing myself more. I played less with him, but stayed on the floor. I eventually moved up onto the twin bed. Then I would lay on the bed (I was in my first trimester with Kaitlyn, so this was great 🙂 ).
After a month or two, I started to leave him in there alone. We started with 10 minutes. Then went up to 15. Then 20, etc.
A great thing about me being in there with him was that I was able to observe him and make the room safe and also instruct him on what was and wasn’t okay.
Starting Playpen Time
You might be able to do something similar to what I did with Brayden. However, since the child is safe in a playpen, since a child in a playpen will be younger, and since leaning over a playpen playing for two weeks doesn’t sound that comfortable, you might also just want to go cold turkey.
In this instance, you would put he child in the playpen, set an egg timer for 5 minutes, cheerfully say good-bye, leave, then come back after the timer goes off. Return cheerfully. As your child gets used to this amount of time, gradually increase it. You might want to start IP off with showing her all of the fun toys to play with.
When you put your child in the playpen or in the room, say something like “okay, have a fun independent playtime! I love you!” Then when you get your child out, no matter if he is happy or sad, say something like, “Hi honey! Did you have fun? Let’s clean up!” and be cheerful about it all. Don’t rush to console. Act like he has nothing to be upset over.
For more with a child resistant to IP, see Resistance to Independent Playtime.
Good Tips to Keep Things Smooth
- Stay Consistent!
- Rotate Toys
- Keep toys age appropriate.
- At the end of IP, have your child help clean up as best she can. At the very least, clean up in front of her so she sees how it is done.
- See more tips on Independent Playtime
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