Mastering the art of independent play is a significant milestone in toddlerhood, but it's not always easy to get there. Toddlers obviously need love, support and care—oftentimes seeking out our attention with great frequency. And while we should certainly show up for our little ones and give them the attention they need, establishing independence is part of the crucial development during toddler years. While a bub needs us involved in every capacity of their life, toddlers will need to learn how to spend time with themselves—and better yet, enjoy it.
Here are some tried-and-true ways to encourage your little one to enjoy their alone time—or as we like to put it, to unlock the power of play.
Pay attention to what they enjoy
This is a great starting point. Does your little one love colouring pages? Or maybe it's LEGO and puzzles? When you catch them fully engrossed in an activity, it’s a good time to leave them to it and trial this alone time. When we first leave toddlers on their own, they may seek us out right away, wanting us to watch them play, read to them, sing to them...you get the idea. Simply explain to your little one that you’ll be in the other room, should they need you. This works well with an activity they already enjoy because they are less likely to seek out your attention right away. Pro tip: praise them for their independence. We all love a good confidence boost.
Avoid telling your little one to ‘play by themselves,’ and instead give them a specific activity. This helps provide some structure, while also ensuring they won’t disappear around the house in search of a specific toy or crayon. They’ll also be more inclined to listen if you have everything set up for them. At this age, our little ones are incredibly playful, so be sure to make this fun for them. You could even suggest a project for them to surprise you with. Perhaps it’s a skyscraper made with LEGO, or a drawing with their favourite colours. This will, of course, depend on how old they are so be sure to celebrate their unique milestones.
Special activities and toys
To help your little one get excited about their ‘me time,’ try incorporating special toys or activities that are only used for independent play. Not only will it positively reinforce this activity, but it will help establish some consistency for them. Toddlers love routine, so if they see the special crayons or the new train set, they’ll know it's time for independent play. You can even do this in a specific location or at a specific time of day to further structure their time.
If your little one will be out of sight during their independent play time, make sure they understand what the rules are. It’s important they don’t engage in any activity they wouldn’t be allowed to do alone—maybe they can’t enter the kitchen or play with glue or Play-Doh. Safety is the number one priority, so before you start fostering their independence, make sure they understand (and will listen) to your boundaries.
Remember that this is a walk, and not a sprint. Small progress is progress nonetheless, and it will be different for every child depending on their age and their temperament. Toddlers have all the time in the world to be independent, but if we can encourage this early, it will help your little one be more confident as they grow bigger. Keep us updated on your progress and tag us in any of your toddler milestones! We can’t wait to see how your little ones are doing.
LittleOak has been nourishing children for many years and feeds millions of infants and babies across the globe each and every day, in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. In the US, we're proud to have our FDA compliant Toddler Milk available for families.