Encourage your child to embrace independent play

By ParentsCanada staff on March 10, 2008
Like most new moms, Sarah, a stay-at-home, self-confessed super-mom wannabe, thought that being a great mother meant being everything to her daughter every waking minute. She put her needs on hold and gave her entire life over to her daughter, Alexandra, now four.

“My sister told me I was ‘entirely too entertaining’, and sadly, she was right,” says, Sarah. “I’m exhausted. I’ve spend months making all of Alex’s toys ‘talk’ to her.” Now Sarah can’t get a moment to herself, and Alexandra seems unable to play by herself. Sarah is worried about her daughter’s creative development.

“Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth. Despite the benefits derived from play for both children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for some children,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in their clinical report, The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Child-Parent Bonds.

Many parents feel guilty if they are not involved in actively playing with their child, but allowing your child to direct their own play scenarios is the key to helping them work out the world on their own.

How to encourage your child's independent play

Provide the tools
Collect art supplies; modelling dough, paints, crayons, paper, cardboard; old clothes and hats for dress-up play. Supply blocks and other toys that don’t need to be plugged in or have batteries to enjoy.

Provide the space
Children need a bit of space of their own, whether it’s a corner in the family room or an organized playroom. In the space, make certain they have bins or shelves to find their toys (and to put them back… eventually).

Provide the time
Unplug your kids. Turn off the TV, computer and video games. Encourage, but don’t force your kids to play independently by being unplugged yourself, close by, but not hovering.

Provide the praise
Be the audience, the art gallery owner (hanging their creations on the fridge) or the makeup artist, and be interested in anything they’d like to share with you.

Children who learn to play independently have the tools to avoid boredom and can learn creative skills for a lifetime. Resist the urge to ‘solve their boredom’ or provide play ideas. Allow their boredom to lead them to a world only they can imagine (and you might get a few things done around the house, too!)

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Spring 2008.

By ParentsCanada staff| March 10, 2008

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