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How To Get a Toddler to Play Independently

I have read a lot about how much free, independent play is essential in our child’s development. This is said by Maria Montessori, Kim John Payne, Eva Kallo, Gyorgyi Balog, and the Danish Way of Parenting.

“He does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” Maria Montessori

“But a half-hour or an hour of quiet, restful solitary time during the day is restorative at any age and a habit worth cultivating.”
Kim John Payne

The inability to play independently inevitably increases the child’s sense of dependence on the adult. Conversely, the independent activity allows him to experience autonomy.”  – Éva Kálló and Györgyi Balog.

However, many parents are concerned about their child’s inability to play alone (without a screen). They always request to “play with me, Mummy!” We are aware of the importance of independent play, but our child can’t or doesn’t want to play alone. Parents get frustrated because they haven’t got enough “Me Time.” I know this feeling well, as my little girl is extra-needy and too “attached,” not the type who likes playing independently.

But there are some solutions. You can get your toddler to play independently since free play can be learned as reading or writing. It is worth moving forward in taking small steps; even if the child is older, we cannot expect more than a few minutes if they haven’t played independently yet.


Parents’ Attitudes

“Do not tell them how to do it. Show them how to do it and do not say a word. If you tell them, they will watch your lips move. If you show them, they will want to do it themselves.”- Maria Montessori.

Analyse your expectations

The problem with play comes from us. We have got some misperceptions about play. First, we should recognize our fears. Before we would believe that our child is incapable of playing alone, we might also think:

  • We must always play with our children or keep them entertained.
  • Our parents neglected or ignored us, and we believe our children might feel unloved as we did.
  • One day our children will play independently, but until then, we need to pay attention to their sorrowful requests to “play with me, Mummy!”
  • Our children can cry so desperately, and we think they are so heartbroken.

If you think your child cannot play independently, you will probably unconsciously send this message to her. Try to trust them, and believe that they are also capable of playing alone. You might think your child is different; she needs company all the time, she is not the type of child who can play alone, or she needs communication with you and your attention.



Once our child is busy playing alone, I try to leave her alone as much as possible. My 2-year-old Mira loves her Shopping List toy from Orchard Toys. She needs my presence; she wants me to observe her, but she is swamped playing alone. She enjoys matching the different kinds of stuff with the appropriate shopping list and putting them into the shopping baskets and trolleys. At such times I don’t comment on what she’s doing or ask her to do something. I don’t even praise her. I avoid eye contact with her too. If she’s playing enjoyably, I don’t want to interrupt her train of thought. The only thing you should do: to recognise your kid’s needs


I know this is very hard, mainly when you are in a hurry and want to dress her up quickly, but she can also do that. Don’t focus on perfection. My Mira likes putting her coats and hats on before we leave home, then she stands in front of the mirror happily smiling.

According to Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, we must remind ourselves that our long-term parenting goal is to guide our kids from being totally dependent on us into becoming independent thinkers and doers; that’s no overnight task.


What do you tell your child when you want her to play alone?

I am so busy; you need to play alone now.”

This tends to increase their resistance to playing alone. We can’t force children to play alone. Instead, we can say “You can play now.” giving them the freedom to choose. They can decide if she wants to play independently or if she would like you to play with them. We need to seek a balance between playing with you and independent play.

Your Toddler’s Personality

Looking around in our family and among our friends, I notice that toddlers’ personalities also play an essential role in the ability to play independently. Gender, birth order, and toddler temperament are critical factors that shape a toddler’s personality.

Personality, temperament, and normal development play a big part in a child’s ability to play alone. Every child’s ability to play alone is different apart from how much their parents are doing to encourage it.

A calm, even-tempered baby probably starts to play independently spontaneously. Mothers might feel guilty for letting their children play alone instead of doing some activities to improve their toddler’s development. But when they are experiencing the benefits of it, they are getting reassured.

A high-needs baby needs extra attention, holding, or soothing. They don’t like looking around alone and playing while lying on their tummies. They will send messages saying you cannot leave them alone. I don’t think forcing would help with them. We must wait until we feel they can play alone, just as they are used to our presence and participation.

A chatty, extroverted child can struggle with playing alone initially. If they want and there is an opportunity to play with other kids, that would be the perfect solution. Every child is different, they play in unique ways, and they are interested in different things. Moreover, it is said by experts that children until three years old (I have already read about 4-5 years old, too) can play next to each other instead of playing together.

My two-year-old Mira is a very sensitive girl. It hasn’t been easy to sleep her, and she reacts to changes in an intensive way. But she is very chatty, and she loves the presence of other children, but she still needs my company as well. This can be felt on the playground or in dance class.

Now she can play alone for a few minutes, and I am trying to do less and less activity in our everyday play giving her more opportunities to do things alone. I am just concentrating on observing and assisting if she requests it and looking at the time when she is playing alone, and I can notice that this lasts longer and longer.

Do your kids like playing by themselves? How do you encourage them to do that?

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