ways to teach children to play independently

I have been researching children’s brain development for the last few months in my free-time. I am fascinated by the way that I am seeing my baby develop. What started as weekly updates on baby milestones sent to my email has turned into a full-blown obsession with the way that children’s brains develop in the first years.

I also have been really focusing my energy lately in trying to create a routine and consistency in my home. Because my husband is a pilot with a variable schedule, we have to learn how to accommodate changes to our routine. I read a fascinating article from the CDC about the “essentials” for a healthy child. They said that structure was one of them. (read also my post 5 Tips for Creating a Quiet Home with Kids)

Armed with all of the new knowledge that have recently acquired, I wanted to distill the top things I have learned to help parents foster children who are independent and stable. These simple 4 tips seemed to come up over and over (with different terminology) that I thought I have to write this down!

If you want a child to play and function independently, you have to:

  1. resist the urge to interrupt. Parents who interrupt their child’s play seriously hinder their ability to really lose themselves in play, a key factor in brain development. They need to keep track of the imaginary friends they are playing with, or the number of tractors in their imaginary field, or where they are in the imaginary forest. To interrupt frequently and “check-in” with them draws them out of play and into a restrictive world of the ordinary. If you see your child in the throes of a great drama, leave them there. Don’t ask them if they want carrot sticks or celery in 20 minutes for snack. Let them be immersed.Play 3.JPG
  2. resist the urge to help. It is so fun to play with kids… but is it really fun to play with adults? People who forgot how to imagine? People who think that the world works one way? Think Peter in Hook… He had to learn to be fun again. Children play “wrong” all of the time. But it is their activity. If your daughter wants to put the circle in the square thing, let her. She will figure it out. In the meantime, maybe she is imagining that she is putting a spaceship on the moon. Who knows? But “helping” often leaves children feeling insecure about their abilities to play. What an awful thing. Let them…be.Play 2.JPG
  3. resist the urge to clean it up.  Parents often see their kids playing and worry less about play and more about mess. Some mom’s focus so much on structure and cleanliness that they cannot help but try to “clean along the way” of fun. These things DO NOT go hand in hand. Research shows that messes and creativity go hand in hand. Let the children have a place where you can let them be free and where you can let yourself off the hook. It can be a place that you don’t have to keep as tidy.play 1.JPG
  4. resist the urge to control. Creativity is usually sparked. It is not managed. Allow your child to go with the spark. This will help him or her to learn to follow through with their inclinations and activities. As parents, it is our job to help our children become who they are supposed to be. If we try to control the impulses that are fostering their personality traits, we inhibit them from becoming secure and independent children.


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