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Helping toddler play alone

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

My son is two and I am a SAHM.  Through the day he is very clingy and wants me to play with him all the time.  If I try and do other things, he`ll come stand next to me and scream and cry.  I`ve tried playing with him for hours ahead of time, or just explaining to him and it doesn`t work.  I`ve tried seeing if his crying ends after a minute and it doesn`t.  I`m very frustrated, as spending the whole day reading toddler books and pushing trains around is a little much to take and I need a little bit of time to read on my own, or be on the computer, or just breathe!


Even more frustrating is that he plays so well alone for others.  When my husband watches him, DS will wander away from him and play alone!  Over and over again if my husband tries to engage him!  My in-laws babysat a couple weeks ago and remarked on how well he entertains himself!


Any tips for helping him transition to playing by himself for a bit when it`s just the two of us?  I don't need lots of time, and still want to play with him a lot, but I'm really needing some downtime!

post #2 of 11

What happens if you move into a space where he doesn't have all the toys he normally gets you to play with?  Usually the only way I can use my computer or read while my daughter is up, is by taking her out to the car to play.  She likes to sit in the front seat and mess with things while I sit in the back seat and do whatever.  I also do a lot of my dinner prep on the hood of the car.  

post #3 of 11

I struggle with this as well (my son is 1.5) and have a few tips that work "most" of the time.  I get him started on a project, grouping cars, hitting plastic balls with a golf club, riding his plasma car around the house, sensory play, potsnpans, or whatever creative thing I can think of - I really work hard to come up with new things - and then drift off to do my chores.


He will come in to whine after about 5 min. and I'll give him a hug, or give him a snack, maybe go play with him for a short while, then redirect to another activity, and sneak off again.  I make all my food from scratch so I just have to do it this way or I don't get to eat the way I want to (lost 20 pds this way!) He is gradually playing for longer and longer snatches of time. 


Hope that helps!

post #4 of 11

Don't know if any of this will help, but here's how I handle the situation [which isn't constant or a huge problem for us].  Also mine is only 13 mo. old.


Sometimes I just hold him on my hip as a cling baby for awhile, sounds like you already tried this.


I turn on music, this works *unbelievably* well.  Laurie Berkner, big time fave, he dances and sings along.  We also play Raffi, Motown, Zoe Lewis, etc.


Sometimes he's just hungry, I feed him up or give him a slow-to-eat, not-too-messy, extra-tasty treat and then he's off to play happily alone.


Sometimes he needs an icy teether.


Sometimes I can give him something really interesting, like a bowl of crushed ice, a new toy or something he's usually not allowed to have.


He was totally clinging this morning, crying and whining and generally unhappy.  I just put on the music, gave him a teether from the freezer, and he's off in the other room playing with his toys, woo!



post #5 of 11

I really wanted to encourage solo play from a young age, mostly because I treasured playing by myself as a child, and also because I crave time to be able to read during the day. 

A few of the things I did and do with dd (26 months, started at about a year):


  • Bring out something new (playdough, tea set, bin of dried beans) and set her up with it and then busy myself with other things.
  • Wait until she is engaged with some creative play of her own (changing her baby doll's clothes, building towers, etc) and then sitting down on the couch with a magazine or book and reading.  When she seeks my attention, I tell her I'll play with her when I'm finished the magazine or the chapter, and then stick to my word.
  • I don't make a big deal about it when she is playing by herself.  Just carry on and do my own thing.
  • Be available to help (knot a playsilk, fit a difficult piece of a puzzle, do up her baby doll's diaper) but then go back to what I was doing.
  • I don't hover.  If she's in the other room, so be it.  She calls for help if she needs it.  I don't want to break the 'spell' of her independent play.
  • Involve her in most everything else when she's not playing by herself (dinner, laundry, shopping, putting things away, etc) so that her 'attention cup' is full up as often as possible.


Hope that helps!  Good luck!


post #6 of 11

i stay at home with my ds who just turned two. my ds always wanted to help with everything, emptying dishwasher, preparing meals, sweeping, laundry, cleaning, etc. my dd really does not really play by himself much inside and when he does it is because he has found something new or if he is very quiet it is because he is doing something i wish he would not do, like climb upon the kitchen counters or stand on the window sills. he likes to be involved in everything. if the dogs go outside, he goes down 2 rooms, gets his chair, drags it across 2 rooms to the door to get a view of our dogs outside. if he spots something on the kitchen counter, he goes down 2 rooms, get his chair, drags it across 2 rooms to reach the wanted item.


my ds is most interested in un-toys. the other day, he was busy with an empty tissue paper box. we also have a treasure box in which the items are rotated. the items include kitchen utensils, wooden toys, and natural materials, such as shells, pine cones, beach rocks, etc. he plays with it for a while but enjoys coming and showing me what he has discovered. he really loves a set of nesting containers so i could take out to make a phone call if need be. to get some time after dinner, my ds will play in his highchair with a tray of lentils and a wooden bowl, draw with crayons (tape the corner of the paper down and offer 2 crayons) or string pasta onto a cotton pipe cleaner (to thicken, folded in half and bend tips down and flatten with pliers, as i found them to be sharp). we also have a window seat with a bird feeder in view which he enjoys looking out. one thing that my ds has always loved has been a small area to sit in. he outgrew his play kitchen cabinet, but enjoys a cabinet in the kitchen that is empty for him. he loves to sit in there and will bring his "new" discovery in there as well. i keep putting a sheet over our art table to create a little spot for him but he keeps taking it down. i think once he gets used to the sheet, he will like another quiet spot just for himself.


my ds just started pretending to cook at this kitchen set, but will bring me his laddle to taste continuously. but i think soon, he will cook for a longer period.


if i really need a little time alone, i can put my ds in his crib with a few books. this did take awhile to get to this point as my ds always needed to be with me. he now understands that i am going to the bathroom and that i will be back shortly. i am close by to verbally just give him reassurance. and after that, if i need a little more time, i can switch the books, give him a hug and tell him i am going to the bathroom again.


outside is a whole other story. my ds is off on his own in our fenced in yard. he does not seem to stay in one area too long but he goes from digging, picking up sticks, going into a playhouse, playing with a fire truck, playing with a ball, collecting rocks, watching trucks drive by, etc. he will bring me rocks and if i put them on a stair, he'll bring the next ones to the stair.



post #7 of 11

I had the same problem when my little one was that age, but it has slowly gotten better.  When it was at its worst and I dreamt of running screaming from the house (no, never did) I figured that they just want to be with you so I put her little table and chair in the kitchen (I'm like 'Nourishingmama' and make a lot of our food from scratch) and set some bowls, whisks, spoons, measuring cups, anything really,on the table for her to play with "just like mummy! which seemed to do the trick or you could set up their toys or colouring in books up on the breakfast bar/island bench or dining table where you are working, reading or on the computer.  Not always convenient for you but really anything to keep you sane for another day!


I do still have the problem with the computer, not being allowed on it for long, its obvious that when I am on it my attention is 100% focussed away from her and she knows that.  Ah well, still working on it!  Sometimes its just nice to know there are others out their with the same issues, albeit on different sides of the world.


Good luck petal! and as they say 'this too shall pass'


post #8 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thanks for some ideas.  I have an extension question...how should I reply when he is screaming and crying?  This morning he was playing with a truck and I started doing laundry, but once he saw I was doing laundry, he stopped playing and started crying.  I tried to explain that he could keep playing trucks while I did laundry, I tried to engage him in helping, but he was crying and occasionally pulling on my leg to pull me away from what I'm doing.  I'm not sure what to do at that point....give him a bit of attention and hope he stops long enough to get my stuff done, or if I should just finish what I'm doing and get to him after (just a few minutes later).  


I'm totally feeling overwhelmed as this is how it goes all day!  I just don't know why other people can get him happily playing alone and I can't!

post #9 of 11

I think they know they've 'got your number' so to speak, they know you will come running and  sort the situation, and of course you do, I found that to leave her be and let her cry (as is suggested by numerous people for so many situations) wasn't the right solution for us, as when she starts up there is no let up until I calm her down, so learnt to politely ignore that advice.  So maybe don't leave him by himself to go do something, always take him with you until he trusts that you won't leave him and involve him with the chore a bit more ie sorting the socks, playing with the pegs, passing up the clothes to put in the machine, slow I know, but sometimes that is the only way until they get better. 


I found one relief was a DVD her nan bought her, she doesn't watch kiddy shows on tv, but this was Benjamin Bear which I found quite a good harmless cartoon for her to watch and kept her attentive for 20mins at a time or even longer for a repeat showing!  I think it's Canadian made actually.


Another thing is boredom, which I think my one suffered from as even though I was happy to be inside all day, she was not and sometimes just a change of scenery made her a happier tot when we came back from a walk.


You will come across a solution just out of the blue and things will change, keep on going, it won't always be this way.

post #10 of 11

my ds is two and he does not play independently but outside. every child is different and everything comes with time. i stayed busy with my first, my dd. it is only now that i know that she was very easy, consistent, easy to read because my son is the complete opposite.


as for the crying today and pulling your leg, it sounds like he really wants to play with you. when he is crying, pull your little one closer to you, sing a soothing song, do a fingerplay, play peek-aboo, hide a toy under a laundered item and ask your little one where it went, help mommy find your truck. if everything is better, have him help with the laundry. if not, continue where you are to have cuddle time or read a book. (i would not get down and play trucks) maybe your son needs something more playful like a lap ride (my children love trot ol' joe and see the ponys galloping) after he is soothed, empty most of the basket, have him get in his boat, row row row your boat.. and call for him to hand you a towel.


if you could plan to include him with this activity than you may get a little break afterwards this activity... if you continue to have him help, you definitely will get a break in the long run. to encourage him to help, play peek-a-boo with a garment to have him come over, sing songs while you work, like whistle while you work.... have him hand you an item and you'll make a sound effect. you'll have to see what works best. the first few couple will be tricky, as you shelter your folded piles from little hands.


i will say that with my dd was a toddler, i purposely did a majority of the chores after she went to bed or when i had an extra set of hands around. when my daughter grew older i learned to include her and she loved it, at 3ish she would read and draw for an entire hour independently.

Edited by ourdayourjourney - 3/30/11 at 5:09am
post #11 of 11

my daughter is 19 months and is the same exact way.  If she is outside she is more independent but only for a short period.  I am a single wahm and i get frustrated with it a lot of the time.  i will try some of the ideas other people mentioned.  When she is at her dads she has no issue playing alone.  my ex says maybe because i have been so active and pretty much took care of her alone from the start she just wants my attention cause she knows once she throws a tantrum i will stop what i am doing and play with her.  that sounds like it could be the case but who knows.

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