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!

How to promote independent play

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

1. Set the stage for imaginative play

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.

2. Get together with friends

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 or a 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.

3. 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’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.

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.

4. 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.

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.

The importance of independent play

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.