From an early age, it’s important for us, as parents, to encourage our children to develop their social skills. This helps to support independence, nurture creativity and encourage your children in developing other valuable skills such as learning to share and engaging with others. But with so much focus on playdates, sleepovers and socialising your child as much as possible, the importance of independence playtime gets pushed aside.
It’s important to strike a healthy balance between independent play and time spent with friends as well as family time and moments spent one-on-one with your toddler. All of these different types of play and socialisation nurture and develop different aspects of their growth and development to create a cohesive whole.
Back to independent play and did you know that this is a toddler milestone in itself? According to early child education professor Stephenie Gillingham and Today’s Parent, “Play is vital to children's development. It supports them on all levels—physically, cognitively, socially, emotionally and spiritually.” Dr Gillingham goes on to explain that by playing alone, your child is gaining “curiosity, autonomy, learning to take initiative and problem solving."
While children will start to spend time playing independently at different ages, you can expect to start implementing the practice when your toddler is aged between 12 and 15 months. Start slow and gradually introduce the process but remember, the younger you begin the more natural it will be, and progress will likely come more quickly.
Independent play takes time and patience to master, so bear with it. As a parent, there are a few stages to encouraging this milestone development. It’s essential to start things off on a good note. Create a safe space where your child feels comfortable and confident. Start off by stepping back just a little and busying yourself with another activity in the same room.
As your child grows more comfortable, you can develop into creating a larger space between you and leaving the room for short periods (if it is safe to do so). Keep a dialogue going to keep things casual and encourage a sense of contentment. Avoid helicopter parenting as one of the most important parts of independent play is that your child learns how to solve problems on their own and become self-reliant. If you’re providing all the answers, it will defeat the point of the exercise.
As time goes on, you will learn more about what type of activities your toddler enjoys and you can encourage their independence in this way. They may choose a play kitchen (a firm favourite), reading, colouring in, building with a playset, dressing up in fancy dress, playing with dolls or other figurines, or playing outside in the garden. As they grow older, reading a book or doing a puzzle may become their activity of choice.
Take advantage of the situation to nurture your child’s sensory experiences too by choosing toys that will encourage this - for example, Playdough. Avoid the TV, iPads and other electrical devices which are just a distraction and not an independent playtime exercise.
Once your child has learned to play happily on their own, they will become more confident and self-reliant with a free imagination. As with many aspects of milestone training, it might not be straightforward but it’s certainly worth it.
The Family Seat is built with an ergonomic, solid construction resulting in a strong, stable seat to give your child confidence during the potty-training process. For advice on any aspect of potty training and for any help purchasing a Family Seat, email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Family Seat supports the children’s communication charity I CAN, who are experts in helping children to develop the language, speech and communication skills that they need to thrive in our 21st-century world. We donate 50p to I CAN on each and every seat purchased through the official Family Seat website.