When Your Child Won’t Stay in Independent Playtime

What to do when your child comes out of independent playtime repeatedly. Find out how to avoid the issue and also how to solve it.

Toddler peeking through door

Independent Playtime is all around one of my favorite facets of the Babywise series (affiliate link).

It gives the child countless benefits and the mom time to get things done without children swarming her.

Children, of course, like to test boundaries. It is natural. The rules of Independent Playtime are a boundary to test.

I think just about every child goes through a time period when he or she tests the waters of getting out of independent playtime over and over again.

Reasons can vary from not wanting to play alone to testing the boundaries. Boundaries often get re-tested whenever a new freedom comes along. It also often happens when the child is potty training or newly potty trained.

The question parents have is, what do you do about it?

Do you want to start your kiddo on playing independently each day? Learn how here: How To Start Independent Playtime Late

What To Do When Your Child Repeatedly Leaves Independent Playtime

Not all children will test this particular boundary, but many will.

When your child starts repeatedly coming out of independent playtime, it can really drive you crazy. Here is what to do when that happens.

Make Sure Time is Right

There are times of day that are better for independent play than others. Right before a meal is not good. Right before a nap is not good. Some children are fussy in the evenings, making the evening not a good time.

Have IPT at a time of day when your child can have the most success.

Make Sure Length is Right

If independent play is longer than is appropriate for your child, your child will get restless toward the end of independent play and want to get out.

>>>Read: Independent Playtime Lengths by Age

Make Sure Toys are Age Appropriate

A toy that is too young for your child (not stimulating) will not be of interest to your child. Your child will then not want to stay in independent playtime.

Conversely, if the toys are beyond your child’s ability, your child will become frustrated and seek help to use the toy. 

Along the same lines, keep toys rotated. Even an age-appropriate toy can get boring after too long. Vary what toys your kiddo has available during IPT so the toys stay interesting.

>>>Great Toys to Encourage Independent Playtime

Teach Acceptable Behavior

Once you are sure the timing is right and the toys are right, explain to your child what is and is not okay.

Explain that your child is not allowed to get out without permission.

Do explain when it is okay to get out. An example of when it is acceptable to get out is when you are potty training.

I would suggest you have a monitor in with your child so you can hear (and see if you have a video monitor) if your child needs you. 

Return Child Immediately to the Room

When your child gets out, return the child to independent playtime even if it is time to get out.

If it is time to get out, return your child, reminding her that she needs to wait for Mommy to get her out. Then wait a minute or two and get her out.

You want the precedent to be that the child gets out when you get her.

Use a Clock or a Timer

You can tell your child the time on the clock when she can get out or you can use an “okay to wake” clock.

You can also set a timer that will go off when it is time to get out.

The benefit of using a clock or a timer is that the timer going off or the clock reaching a number is what determines if it is okay to get out or not. This shows the child that her own persistence or whining is not what determines it.

Work on Obedience Throughout the Day

If your child obeys you, your child will stay in independent play until you come and get him.

If you find your child is not listening to you well throughout the day, then you will not fix independent play issues by changing toys or time of day it happens.

It is very common for toddlers and preschoolers to get “wise in their own eyes” and it is also common for parents to allow too many freedoms and need to scale back.

>>>Read: How Too Many Freedoms Leads to Disobedience

Praise Obedience

When your child starts to stay in independent play until you come get her or until it is time, be sure to tell her she did a great job and thank her for obeying you. Recognize good efforts.

Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

Almost anything that you do as a parent will be made easier with consistency.

Be consistent in the time of day that you do IPT.

Be consistent about actually doing IPT each day.

Be consistent with your expectations and your response when rules are broken.


When times get hard with situations like this, it can be tempting to throw in the towel and just give up on independent playtime rather than try to enforce it.

Don’t do it!

You can get back on track and it is very much worth the effort it will take you to stick with it. You can do it, and your child can too.

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This post originally appeared on this blog in January 2012.

5 thoughts on “When Your Child Won’t Stay in Independent Playtime”

  1. I'm wondering how you explain to others about IP. How do I explain without it sounding like I lock my kid in their room for an hour? 🙂 I understand the benefits, and have seen how it has helped, but I have a hard time explaining it to family/friends who have never heard of or done it.

  2. hello there…first of all, I really want to thank you for this blog…it's been a life saviour many times, but coming to business…my son is 1 year and two weeks old…I've used baby wise methods since he was a newborn, but never tried independent play…I want to start it because he is getting really attached to me lately…he doesn't want to play alone and is getting very disobedient…he sleeps great, but doesn't handle disruptions very well…my question is: how do I start IP with him? He sleeps in a camp cot so I don't want to use it but find it cruel to close the door of his room to leave him there (because otherwise he will just follow me when I leave)…I've read you started IP with Braiden when he was around the same age…can you please help me with some good tips??? thank you so much again for your blog…ahhh sorry for any grammar mistakes…I'm a missionary from Brazil but live in South Africa, so English is not my first language…God bless you!!! Lorena

  3. AnnDee,I just tell them they play in their room alone each day. Most people are just impressed and jealous 🙂 If they ask further, I give them more information about why. I think it is best in answering questions to keep the answer basic while answering, and if they want more info, they will ask for it.

  4. JR,Check my post on starting late. Do you have access to a baby gate? You could try that.Essentially, how I did it with Brayden was we started by playing in his room together at the playtime each day. I slowly removed myself from playing and just observed him playing. I then started him out for five minutes alone. We added five minutes at a time. I think it took us about a month to go through this whole proces and have him up to 15 minutes at a time.


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