Parent counselor, discipline coach, preschool teacher and single parent Miriam Jochnowitz understands firsthand the importance of children's independent play. She says, "Be prepared to spend some time, ungrudgingly, at the start, at least. The more impatient you seem to go do something else, the more your child will be likely to want you to stay."
She continues, "Start an activity together. Then say, 'I'm going to go do x for a while, and you can keep on doing this. I will be back and we will play together some more.'"
She says to gradually decrease the time you stay with your child at the beginning of the activity and lengthen the time you are away. She also reminds to schedule some time to simply play. She says, "Having fun together is an important, overlooked aspect of parenting."
Susan Magsamen, founder and CEO of Curiosityville, suggests resisting the urge to swoop in, and, instead, letting your child figure out a solution to his own frustrations as he plays independently.
She advises, "Rest assured that it's okay for your child to feel frustrated as he works to figure things out. Know that kids are amazing problem-solvers and can figure out all kinds of things on their own."
She notes that giving children the opportunity to lead can result in some of the best creative play. She says, "When your child has a friend over, take a step back and let them decide what to do. Kids are consummate creators and can come up with amazing adventures at the drop of a hat. If they get stuck, offer some guidance, but let them take the lead!"
Parents Teach Kids' Jennifer Little, Ph. D., holds a masters in special education and a doctorate in educational psychology. She has taught child development courses at undergraduate and graduate levels and was a teacher for almost forty years to pre K-12 students, most of whom had difficulty interacting appropriately with others. In other words, she's seen it all. She advises not to allow yourself to be manipulated into becoming your child's only playmate.
She says, "Parents who feel guilty that there isn't another child or don't want to deal with adult responsibilities (drudgery work, etc.) will devote much of their time to the child. Children learn to manipulate the parent quickly. Learn to have the child in the play room/bedroom and walk away. "
To encourage them to enjoy their solo playtime, Little suggests finding "toys the child enjoys, and have them easily accessible and within the child's viewing range. When toys are put away (boxes, closets), the child doesn't see them and realize (s)he can play with them."
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