How To Start Independent Play If You Haven’t Already

After my last post How Daily Independent Play Helped Me Raise ‘Good’ Kids, I got a lot of questions about how to start implementing daily, routine independent play sessions. It’s perfectly normal that your children resist playtime initially.

If they are 2 and have never been required to play on their own in their room, there may be tears or tantrums. And that’s okay. Tantrums aren’t always a bad thing. The key is baby steps. Start small. My 3-year-olds will play for one hour (longer if I let them) willingly each morning. They are used to it and time flies when they are having so much fun.

But starting in 10–15 minute independent play intervals (in the morning and in the afternoon) is a safe bet. If they cry or resist, reassure them you are just in the other room and will return shortly. Eventually — when they realize you will come back — they’ll turn away from the back of the door and begin playing.

After they have mastered the 15-minute interval, stop coming into their room every time they cry. Come into their room after they have been crying for 3–5 minutes (if they even cry at all), you choose what makes the most sense for you and your child.

I know it sounds brutal but what we are doing here is helping kids self-control their own emotions. Our job as parents is not to be at their beckon call for every cry they make.

Our job is to help them develop into independent beings who can control their own emotions and clearly express what they want or need.

Crying every time they want something or bored does not accomplish this goal of independence and develops a horrible habit that will take longer to curtail if left untreated.

Obviously, there is a difference between the ‘I’m bored’ cry and the ‘I’m injured’ cry, and no one is telling you to ignore the ‘I’m injured’ cry.

You can gradually increase the time they are in their rooms after they’ve gotten the hang of it and began to independently play without ‘I’m bored’ crying outbursts. Gradually extend to 30 minutes and longer once your child has mastered.

As always, be consistent. Consistency is key. When they expect play time each day, they are far more likely to be willing participants than if you try to spring it on them just because you need a few minutes to yourself. Make it a regular part of your daily routine and be amazed at the results!

Please leave a comment when you try this and let me know how it is going for you. As you know, every child is different, and we may need to adjust based on your child. I’m always here to help if needed. Sign up for a free 30-minute consult so that we can discuss:

Originally published at on April 19, 2016.