4 ways to encourage independent play for baby’s benefit—and yours

You have enough to do without being your tot’s source of entertainment 24/7. It’s time to let baby take the lead.

4 ways to encourage independent play for baby’s benefit—and yours

As toddlers, children still need a secure base from which to explore their environment (usually you, mama). But a constant need for attention and active engagement can be frustrating sometimes, especially when there are so many things to get done every day.

Independent play can promote autonomy, imagination, problem-solving, and creativity in your child. Plus, it can give you a much-needed chance to catch your breath among the daily chaos of motherhood!

Here are 4 methods for promoting independent play in your child.

Next stop, Imagination Station!

Children’s imaginations develop rapidly. Set the tone for independent play by providing the groundwork for intricate forms of imaginary play that your child can engage in alone or with peers.


For instance, offer your child a few ideas, such as building a “fort,” making a simple craft, baking in a play kitchen, or playing house. Note your child’s particular interests so that you might better tempt them into playing independently.

Sheet fort kind of day � #sheetfort #everydaywithmisscolette #toddlerlife #rainyday #noboysallowed

A photo posted by Sophie & Coco (@sophie_and_coco) on

That’s what friends are for!

Social relationships are also blossoming at this age, as your child is starting to truly interact with other children.

If you are hoping for your child to learn to play independently so you can squeeze in some“grown up time,” consider hosting a simple play date at your house ora nearby park. The little ones can play together and you can catch up with a few of your best mommy friends.

Alternatively, consider a rotating schedule with 1 or 2 trusted mamas in which each of you take turns watching the tots. Even if two moms are “on duty,” that still gives one mama a few hours to catch up on errands, work, cleaning, or, yes, a haircut and Netflix.

Another option for increasing social relationships with peers is to enroll your child in aMother’s Day Out program. Although the name implies that these programs are purely for your sake, they actually offer your child a crucial opportunity to build peer relationships and become more comfortable with increasing distance from you, mama.

Make playtime seem new and exciting!

Because your child’s cognitive development is growing so rapidly, make sure that your tot has a variety of age-appropriate toys and activities available.

My two-year-old loves his toy kitchen and accoutrements, wooden train set, nesting blocks, sidewalk chalk, and Y-Bike.

If your child seems uninterested in his toys, it is possible that he is outgrowing some of them. If this is the case, consider donating or selling them and investing in a few new ones. Try your favorite second-hand shop for fun toys at a bargain.

If your child’s toys are age-appropriate but he still seems indifferent to them, it is possible that there are too many toys at his disposal.

Too many toys can be overwhelming. Think about a child’s playtime like your workload. If there are too many things on that pesky to-do list, it’s easier to just forget about it and go out for coffee instead. In your child’s case, it may be easier to just throw his hands up in the air and give up on playing with toys.

Här leks det för fullt! � Credit: @tinylittlepads

A photo posted by Kids and baby Inspiration � (@finabarnsaker) on

Plus, if your child’stoys are always out and available, they may lose their appeal and begin to seemboring after a while. Try putting out just a few toys at a time and rotatingthem after a week or so. Et voila! “Brand new” toys for your littleone every week.

Whistle while you work—together!

If you are desperate for more time to finish daily chores, ask your child for a little help with sorting laundry, sweeping, or throwing away trash.

This baby loves to clean, thank goodness one of my kids cleans� #themothereffintruth #toddler #toddlersofinstagram #17months #babycleaning

A photo posted by The Mother Effin Truth Blog (@themothereffintruth) on

If your child is willing to help, great! If not, he may look for more interesting pursuits on his own while you finish up. Win-win.

Similarly, look for ways to incorporate play that is independent but still nearby to quench your little one’s thirst for interaction. For instance, if you need time to cook dinner, try putting a toy kitchen (or a few play cooking gadgets) in the real kitchen for your child to play with while you cook. It’s an impromptu Mommy andMe cooking class!

Just remember to let your child know that you have work to finish before you can play, but that you will finish just as soon as you can. This sets a good example for your child and lets your child know just how much you love playing and spending time with them. This reassurance will reinforce your role as a secure base for your child.

We know it can be guilt-inducing to crave a little time and space of your own when your child is around—even if it is just to get other forms of work done. But, it’s okay to let your child know that there are things that need to be accomplished before you can play.

Your tot may come first 95% of the time, but it is healthy for them to know that sometimes they must wait for your attention. Practicing this skill teaches self-regulation, patience, and autonomy.

Before you know it, you might even feel nostalgic for days when you and your babe were attached at the hip. When that moment comes, drop what you are doing and let your tot show you how fun is done.

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I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

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There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank when shopping for toddler products. Here are our favorite high-quality, budget-friendly finds to help with everything from meal time to bath time for the toddler set.

Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

Comforts fruit snacks

If there is one thing to know about toddlers, it is this: They love snacks. Keeping a variety on hand is easy when the pack already comes that way! Plus, we sure do appreciate that freeze-dried fruit is a healthier alternative to fruit snacks.

Comforts Electrolyte Drink

Comforts electrolyte drink

Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

Comforts training pants

When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

comforts nite pants

Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

comforts baby lotion

Running, jumping, playing in sand, splashing in water—the daily life of a toddler can definitely irritate their skin! Help put a protective barrier between their delicate skin and the things they come into contact with every day with nourishing lotion.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Now don't get me wrong. I adore my trips to Target (and based on the fullness of my cart when I leave, I am pretty sure Target adores my trips there, too).

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