Independent Play Training

I’m no child training expert. Believe me! You already know this if you have watched or observed my children for more than five minutes. LOL I’m not going to toot my own horn in this post, but I would love to help any parent that struggles with their littles constantly running at their feet. Not that we don’t love kids around our home, but we are training adults … not children.

In order for my home to run properly, I need time. Not hours and hours, but maybe one or two a day! One of those hours may be when my kids are sleeping, but there is no excuse for me to ONLY get things accomplished when my babies are in bed. I’ll be writing this article from a personal testimony standpoint. The truth is, that your children are YOUR children. Only you know their needs and what is best for them. If my tips can help you, great! If they seem too extreme or not with your vision for your family, great! Take the good and disregard what you can’t use.

If leaving your children is a constant battle, church nursery is a nightmare, or your kids are not comfortable with others (even the other parent) then you may have a problem with an over-dependence. A child that cannot be separated from mommy isn’t always a sign of endearment. Sure, we love when our kids call out exclusively for us, but I want others to enjoy my children too. We must be careful not to make our children our identity. Children are a gift to us as parents. We are to train them to do His work. They are to be assets in our ministry at home and lights in a world of darkness. Let’s be sure children are in the proper place!

Ok, lest I sound any more like a tyrant parent, let’s get started! LOL

I should clarify … we’re talking about “screen free” independent play time in this article. Silas would watch TV or play on the iPad for 12 hours straight if I let him. We’re trying to avoid being entertained by screens and learn to play by ourselves, without mommy.

  1. Have A Good Reason

Why do you need your kids to be able to keep themselves occupied for a long period time? Do you need to do dishes, fold laundry, make a serious phone call, clean the bathroom, write a thank you note, work from home? These are all stellar reasons to train your child to play independently! These actions benefit your home and make it run better. Watching Netflix, scanning Instagram, recreational reading, are not on my list of productive uses of my time. It’s not coincidental that as soon as I’ve finished what I “need” to do and move on to checking my social media accounts, my kids go bonkers. LOL The Lord gives me exactly the time I need to get things accomplished, and the wisdom to say no to the unnecessary (like my phone). Choose your reason, then keep that in front of you for motivation.

2. Start Small

5 minutes. Yes, just 5 minutes. Let your kids know you will be ” …… ” and you’ll be back in 5 minutes. Then let them play for 5 minutes! They will come calling for you in about 30 seconds. LOL Let them know their time is not up and send them back to play. The next week do 10 minutes, the next 15 minutes, etc. You get the idea.

3. Set a Timer

Hearing a buzzer or song when the time is up is super helpful for toddlers. Si has a kid’s alarm clock in his room, he loves knowing that when the light goes on he can leave his room. He is very interested in time these days, he loves knowing what time is it and is really into asking for just “two more minutes”. Kids appreciate consistency and predictability … just like adults … and remember, that’s what we’re training.

4. Limit the Toys

We have toys in two different places in our home, one large basket in the living room, and one small play set in Si’s bedroom. Kids need to be creative, and they can’t be creative with so many bells and whistles screaming in their ears. My sister has a great article on toys taking over¬†here.¬†Inevitably my kids will grab one toy and play in our dining room. The room with the least amount of furniture and ZERO toys. There is something calming about a clean organized space. Clean up is a breeze too, no organizing, no sorting … and they can HELP throw all the toys in the bin in a few minutes. Here is Callie chillin’ after clean up the other night. LOL

5. Block Off the Area

We’ve had a playpen in our living room since Si was born. And I’m going to miss it when it’s gone! Callie has all her baby toys and books in there and literally ASKS to be put in there. Our house is not an open concept design layout, so our living room is sectioned off, which works in my favor when they are playing. Make the place safe. It’s going to get messy, so just plan on having a cleanup party after.

6. Special Activites and Toys

I rotate our toys every couple months. When they start getting bored with what we have out, I swap them for the extra we keep in storage. Keep puzzles, toys with little parts, playdough, etc. in a place they can’t get to. If ALL of their toys are readily available for them at any time… it gets old quickly. Not to mention the mess of play dough every day … ain’t nobody got time for that!¬†Pinterest has hundreds of independent play games and ideas. So be sure to search there for fun activities!

7. Have Realistic Expectations

Age, personality, the number of children in your home, etc. all come into play when setting your expectations. Right now my 3-year-old and 14 month old will give me about 25 minutes of uninterrupted time. If they are clean, fed, and safe … they will survive. I know, it’s hard as moms not to come beckoning to our child’s every whimper, but imagine the reward! When I don’t get a break … even if it’s a 15 minute one, I start feeling like a victim and dread those little cries for mommy. That is not God’s intention for us as moms, we should enjoy our children! Don’t allow yourself to be used and abused by the very humans you gave life to. Take action to make it better!

8. Use Incentives

A special treat, game, or activity is always good motivation! Something as simple as taking a walk after play time is a big deal. Or maybe getting to eat lunch in a different spot than normal. Be creative, it doesn’t have to be candy or something that costs you money.

9. Play Music

I love the instrumental channel on our church’s radio station. The app on my phone is quick and easy to use! Good old Patch the Pirate always work to get our spirits up! If I need them quite and calm I’ll play classical music.

10. Start Early

I started actively sleep/schedule training my kids at 3 months. Of course, you are the parent, so you make the decision of what time is right for your family. But kids are WAAAAAY smarter than we give them credit for. Those babies know exactly what to do to get you to come running. And they will use it FOR YEARS unless you start to take action. The younger they are, the easier it will be!

11. Be Firm

You are the parent. They are looking for direction. Any disobedience is a cry for parenting. It’s our job. If you give a command, follow through with the consequence if they do not obey.

12. Be Intentional About Your Play Time with Them

So, they gave you the time you needed, now use your reunion as a happy, exciting time! “I’m back! Let’s play hide and go seek!” These words are like Christmas morning to my son! Absence makes the heart grow fonder. 20 minutes is the equivalent of 20 hours for a baby or toddler. What may seem like a minuscule amount of time to us, is a HUGE amount for them. Quality time is a great reward for good behavior!

There you have it! Some tips I use to train my kids. Buckle up for some backlash from the kiddos, it will come! But nothing compares to watching your child play with enthusiasm, creativity, discovering new things for themselves, and bonding with siblings. Good luck! Feel free to comment with any questions! You can find me on Instagram and Facebook too!

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