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Child playing independently

The Practical Guide To Teaching Children To Play and Learn Independently

As a parent, do you feel like it is your job to keep your child entertained all the time? After all, you can only play that movie on the TV so many times before you want to pull your hair out. If you feel like your child is never going to be independent, please know that you are not alone. Kids often view their parents as extensions of themselves. When you walk out of the room, the reaction of your child is enough to make you think you have left them forever! Independence is an important but challenging skill for children to learn.

Child playing independently

When it comes to teaching kids how to learn and play by themselves, this can be a challenge. After all, preschoolers and toddlers are used to having their parents do almost everything for them. As kids reach the age of three or four years, it is time for them to start learning how to be independent. Their parents are not going to be accompanying them to Kindergarten. Therefore, parents need to think about how they can get their kids to learn and play on their own. At the same time, you might feel guilty about leaving your child. There are a few strategies that you can follow to help your child learn how to play and explore on his or her own.

Give Your Child Notice

If you want your child to gain independence, you need to get him or her involved in the change. Encourage him or her to help you make a change. If you think you are doing more for your child than you should, say something like “I’m sorry! I’m treating you like a baby! It’s time to give you some big-kid jobs!”

The operative word, baby, can do wonders in this situation. This word can raise a red flag in the eyes of a toddler who thinks that he or she is a big kid. Then, your child will want to show you that he or she is ready to take on the world with some big-kid tasks. This is a great way to get your child on board with being independent.

Come Up With Opportunities

It is important for you to come up with a list of tasks you think your child should be doing on his or her own. If your child is around the age of three or four years, there are some “big-kid” tasks that he or she should be able to handle. Some of these ideas include:

  • Pick up toys alone
  • Get dressed in the morning and undressed in the evening
  • Put on shoes 
  • Brush teeth independently
  • Clean up a place setting at the table

The key to this strategy is that you are going to have to be patient enough to let your child handle these activities. If you think it is going to take your child an extra five minutes in the morning to brush his or her hair, then you need to start the morning routine about five minutes earlier. If you think it is going to take your child five minutes to get his or her shoes on, then you need to plan to leave about five minutes earlier. This is very different from micromanaging; however, it is going to give your child the chance to learn independence on his or her own. Simply be patient and let your child do things his or her way. This will go a long way toward building independence. Seek out these opportunities for your child to demonstrate independence and take advantage of them.

Focus On One Activity at a Time

Getting your child to be independent is a major shift in his or her life. You can’t expect to pull the training wheels off and have your child do everything alone. Instead, focus on one activity at a time.

For example, if you want your child to brush his or her teeth alone, then focus on this. Set aside time every morning and evening to let your child brush twice per day independently. Then, once you think your child has mastered this activity, it is time to find something else. Pick one change at a time. This will help your child adjust to this new normal gradually.

Compromise Is Your Friend

Kids are stubborn. We all know it. Therefore, don’t be afraid to compromise. For example, your child might not want to get dressed on his or her own for the first few days. There is nothing wrong with this. Therefore, maybe your child wants to do the shirt while you do the pants. Then, after a few days, you switch. Eventually, you can let your child pick out the outfit if he or she will put it on alone. This is a great way for you to help your child get used to getting dressed alone.

This ability to compromise is an important part of building your child’s independence. As long as he or she feels that he or she is involved in the process, you are well on your way to having an independent child.

Throw Perfection Out the Door

When you are teaching your child independence, mistakes are going to happen. The house is not going to be perfect. You need to be willing to accept that messes are going to be made and simply view them as a learning opportunity.

For example, you might be encouraging your child to make his or her own cereal in the morning. This means pouring cereal and pouring milk. Then, without fail, the milk spills. Do not get angry and do not punish the child. It was an innocent mistake. Instead, use this as a learning opportunity. Show your child how to clean up a spill. Ensure your child that this mistake happens to everyone.

If you take the alternative approach and get angry, this is going to be a step backward. Do not punish your child for showing independence. Use this as a learning opportunity.

Always Find Something To Praise About Your Child

On that note, always let your child know how proud you are. For example, your child puts on his or her own shoes; however, it is clear they are on the wrong feet. Instead of saying “your shoes are on the wrong feet,” praise your child instead. Say, “I’m proud of you for putting on your shoes!” Your child is going to discover for himself or herself that the shoes are on the wrong feet. Trust me. Then, he or she will make the adjustment for himself or herself. This is another part of demonstrating independence.

Teaching Your Child How To Learn and Play Independently

These are a few of the strategies that you can use to help your child learn independence. Discovery and curiosity are important skills for children and this is a part of independence. At the same time, let your child know that you are there for them. If your child is sick or hurt, it is okay to ask for help. You can share the load with your child. This is an important part of helping kids learn who they are and build their own identity.

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