Did you know that one year olds can play on their own for up to 20 minutes? While you might look at this as the much needed bathroom break, it is also the break that helps your little one explore and discover the world a few minutes at a time.
So how can you help with this journey of exploration and self -discovery? Like everything else with little kids, it does not happen magically or overnight. You have to have patience and be flexible as they grow and go back and forth between testing the independence and drawing back to the safety of being with adults who will engage or entertain.
Set up a child safe space – While you might briefly plonk your little one on the couch for a snack, it might not be safe enough for you to let go.
You should have the space childproofed and make sure they cannot stick their little fingers into anything or pull something on to themselves.
Make sure the toys, books, games or whatever interests them is well within reach or else they will give up in frustration.
Make it interesting – Putting the child in front of a screen to keep them there does not count as solo play. In fact you may harm any chances of solo play with a screen.
Encourage imaginative play with toys that are more about the child themselves. A set of stacking blocks can be a tower or a Toy Clock or just small houses in a row or just cake at a pretend party. Let them interpret the world and discover their own imagination.
Explore learning activities but ensure they can they can dig into by themselves. You'll have more success teaching them how to play alone.
You can do more than read
Structure – Your little munchkin might fight sleep to the end every day, but believe us, they like the routine you provide by doing the same thing every day. Routine builds rhythm and makes it easier on the child.
You can schedule solo play everyday but try and keep the time and duration more or less the same. It can be just before their dinner or just after breakfast.
If they know what to expect, they look forward to it and adjust better.
Do not overwhelm – If you put out too many items it may be counterproductive as the child may feel overwhelmed and get agitated.
Put out two or three different things that you believe they would like to explore and examine. A ball, a set of nesting blocks, maybe a book that they enjoy is more than enough variety for solo play exploration.
Stay close by – While that bath room break is ok, you cannot leave the child alone, especially not initially. It is in the interest of child safety and also their emotional security.
If you can for instance, work in the kitchen while they entertain themselves with the little plastic storage containers or spoons etc. you can keep an eye on them and they feel secure enough by having you in sight.
The older they get the longer you can leave them alone to explore.
Be firm - The charming little rouges will draw you in with their charm and persistence. This is your time to resist the charm firmly but gently.
If they hand you a toy, wishing to engage you, acknowledge it, but hand it back and carry on with your work ( pretend or otherwise). If you do it consistently, they will learn that it is not always a good idea to engage with you and learn to play solo.
Patience is the key - Nothing with children goes exactly as expected. There will be days when they enjoy solo play and there might be days when no amount of effort can peel them away from you even for a minute.
Have patience and persist. Remember it is as much in their interest as it is in the interest of a little peace and quiet for you.
Play has many more functions in a child’s world other than just entertainment. Let your child explore the world and grow one-toy-at –a time. Solo play is the base on which self-dependence, imagination, self-confidence is based. And you also get that crucial bathroom break. A win –win for everyone!!