Jump to content

How do you encourage independent play?
My 4 year old is driving me spare

  • Please log in to reply
18 replies to this topic

#1 Guest_Dinah_Harris_*

Posted 23 January 2013 - 08:24 AM

I need some tips desperately for teaching my 4 year old to play more independently.   I set her up with activities like trains or dolls or painting etc,  sit and play with her for a little while and then go do some stuff.
Five seconds later she is whinging at me:   Muuuuuummmm I'm booooored!
She has absolutely no capacity for self directed play.   I'm not getting even the most basic household chores done because she is hanging off me constantly.
I take them both out every morning for an activity like library story time,  music class etc,  and in the afternoon we go to the park.   So it's not like there are massive chunks of time I'm expecting her to play for,  but not even 30 minutes!
Anyone got any tips?

Edited by Dinah_Harris, 23 January 2013 - 08:25 AM.

#2 Turn left

Posted 23 January 2013 - 08:32 AM

I'll be interested in hearing replies on this topic too.

I have 2 DDs.  Both totally different in their capacity to play independantly.  My just 6 yr old DD has always been great at playing on her own, since she was very young.  However, my eldest DD who is  just 7 years old cannot play on her own STILL!  I have encouraged independent play for years to no avail.

#3 Guest_Dinah_Harris_*

Posted 23 January 2013 - 08:36 AM

I hear you,  Turn Left.   My 17 month old DD2 is brilliant at playing on her own.  Go figure!

#4 Hypnic Jerk

Posted 23 January 2013 - 08:36 AM

in this case it needs to be taught.

try using a timer?  "Is 5 minutes up?  Noo, you need to play with your trucks for 5 mins"


#5 lucy-lu

Posted 23 January 2013 - 08:39 AM

I have ds 3.5 and dd 2 and they are ok.
He enjoys time on his own playing with his tools outside, which is where he is most happy to be alone or with his sister. When they are outside I try to stay out of sight, hehe, have a sneaky snack inside.....
Inside both kids seem to need me more, not sure why.

Currently both kids have a paint brush and a small container or water and are happily painting outside.

#6 Feral timtam

Posted 23 January 2013 - 08:50 AM

"The sun is shining, go outside and play" using the no argument voice.

In your case OP, hand the child a child sized broom and tell her to sweep the floor. Get her to help with the chores, she's not a newborn that needs constant attention any more!

Then again, I've never 'entertained' my kids. They've been expected to entertain themselves from birth.

#7 Lagom

Posted 23 January 2013 - 08:50 AM

What does she like to do?  Maybe she's just not really into dolls or whatever you set her up with?  Maybe she is a people person and it's just that she prefers your company to playing by herself.  I know that doesn't help you get your stuff done but it may give you some insight into why it's not working. Perhaps you need to say to her, 'I am going to go and do 'x' now.  It's important that you don't interrupt me.  I'm going to set this timer and I will play with you when it rings.  What would you like to do while I am doing 'x'?  Start with a couple of minutes and gradually make the time longer.

Or, if you are trying to do things, get her to help.  Ie, folding the washing she can match the socks, mopping the floor she can clean the dirty spots with a cloth etc etc.  I find in our house they either help because they are interested or they will run and hide because they don't want to help!

#8 liveworkplay

Posted 23 January 2013 - 11:53 AM

Give her a house cleaning chore. My girls have always liked washing things. So I set them up with a container of water and a cloth and they wash the walls, cupboard doors, floor, bath, anything I tell them too laughing2.gif At 9, 6 and 3 they are quite good at it now and it saves me time laughing2.gif

I think it is a personality thing and a little bit of a first born problem as well. My firstborn, from the moment she popped out, needed constant attention. However, from a babe, the second born would happily play on her playmat for 20-30 minutes at a time, something unheard of with DD1. With DD3 I had to keep reminding the older ones to "leave her alone!!" biggrin.gif But she is pretty independent in most things except needing company in the toilet rolleyes.gif

#9 lizzzard

Posted 23 January 2013 - 12:03 PM

DS4 is much more of a 'natural' independent player than DD6, but I have 'trained' DD so that she is willing to play independently more now. Every weekend (I work fulltime) we have 'quiet time' for a couple of hours from about midday-2pm if we are at home. Usually we're out in the morning, so I start priming them both when we're on our way home by saying "when we get home, everyone is having quiet time, including mummy and daddy". WHen we get home, DS often has a nap / rest, though sometimes its only for 15-30minutes. DD is expected to go and occupy herself in a quiet activity and when DS gets up he will either play by himself or go and play with his sister. DH usually naps and I read or do some work. If they come over to me during that time I firmly but gently remind them it's quiet time and they need to figure problems out themselves and find something for themselves to do. After the same routine for a long time (we've been doing this for about a year now) they pretty much know the drill. I will admit I feel a bit 'mean' for enforcing 'quiet time' sometimes when I know they want to hang out with me, but in the long run, I do really appreciate it, and it makes me more patient during the day to have that down time. I think consistency, routine and firmness is the key. In your case - perhaps pick a time during the day, every day when you have 'independent play' time. They should get used to it and start to build up the skill from there.

#10 jo-v

Posted 23 January 2013 - 12:08 PM

My eldest is the same, wants me involved in all his games. Sometimes I can get away with the odd direction like sending him on different ninja missions lol. At 4.5 he's getting better. DD 2 will happily play by herself for ages.

Me and my younger brother were the same so think there's def a link with older child/younger child.

#11 CallMeFeral

Posted 23 January 2013 - 12:11 PM

A friend of mine did the timer thing. Short bursts - 5 mins, 10, all the way up to 45.

My kids seem to entertain themselves. I think if you sit on EB for long enough and don't respond to attention requests, they eventually find you boring and go do something else Tounge1.gif

#12 liveworkplay

Posted 23 January 2013 - 12:13 PM

My kids seem to entertain themselves. I think if you sit on EB for long enough and don't respond to attention requests, they eventually find you boring and go do something else Tounge1.gif


#13 steppy

Posted 23 January 2013 - 12:15 PM

If I had a child that did this I'd probably get her involved in my housework. Might as well be learning something useful. If she doesn't like that, she'll probably go and play.

#14 Guest_Dinah_Harris_*

Posted 23 January 2013 - 12:24 PM

Thanks for all your replies.  I cracked it today because all morning she was literally hanging off me whinging for more than our hour.  Often I feel bad about asking her to go and play, because I feel guilty that my job as a mother is to play with her.
But then I figured I have other jobs to do as well.  
Here's a list of activities I've sent up her up with in the past:
* Painting/drawing
* Trains
* Cars
* Lego
* Little People
* Dolls
* Dollhouse
* Building blocks
* Kitchen
* Playing with water
* Cash register/supermarket
* Doctors
* Riding her bike
* Jigsaw puzzles
* Writing on the chalk board

You know, there has to be a couple of things in there she genuinely enjoys, but 5 minutes later is boooo-rrrrred.  I think I've actually enabled her a little though, so as of today I've had enough.
Rawr, we have a lovely, gentle, patient dog who will play for hours on end.  DD1 ignores her completely.  She also had a pet plant for a while that she let die!
I guess I was wondering if I was being mean/unfair/unreasonable to expect her to play independently.   Now I'm not feeling so bad.   ohmy.gif

#15 BlueUnicorn

Posted 23 January 2013 - 01:07 PM

My kids play by themselves often but I find if they are clingy or following me around I need to ignore them for a while.  If they aren't getting my attention they usually go off and play.  Sometimes I might suggest something, ie why don't you take barbies on a pic nic to the spare room, you could make a card for nan.
We also have quiet time from about 11-1 daily.  It's a time for my youngest two to sleep and my oldest to amuse herself, at least half hour is spent quietly in her room relaxing.  Sometimes I will put a movie on for her, but mostly she plays dolls or does craft/ art.
I would deffinately do the timer thing to try and break her habit of following you around / getting attention.  My eldest gets into this pattern sometimes and needs help to stay focused Ie, if you play in here quietly for a while I will take you to the park after lunch, don't come out, I will get you when it's time.  If she doesn't want to play I say that's okay, you can do what ever you want in your room but I will get you when it's time to come out.    She will always play except when she occasionally falls asleep!
Don't feel guilty, kids need time alone to explore and develop their imaginations.  You are doing her a service by teaching and enforcing her play time.  Maybe you are doing too much as far as activities go and you daughter expects to be entertained?  Just a thought, it may not be the case.
Good luck.

#16 miss*k

Posted 23 January 2013 - 03:32 PM

LOL My 3.5 year old is EXACTLY the same. I put it down to her being an only child, even when she was a little toddler she always wanted to involve me. At certain times of the day she is awesome at it, first thing in the morning, and in the evening. She's just such a social little creature lol. Can be VERY draining, but I encourgage it by asking her to try playing for 5 mins while I do something and tell her what she can do. she always love role playing activities (playing mothers and babies), and she likes that extra person to play a part in it. I don't mind so much some days, but sometimes 8 hours of it can be quite draining. Thank god she is in daycare 3 days a week.

#17 #tootired

Posted 23 January 2013 - 03:43 PM

I have a 4yo that does this too. I think it just the individual personality of the kid. Mine most happy when "working." Sweeping, hanging washing, gardening etc..unfortunately all these things require me to be "working too."

I just count day the days until he starts school and someone else will have to keep him occupied for every waking minute.

My DS3 hasn't watched any more than 3 seconds of TV in his life, yet his brother DS2, could sit there all day if you let him!

#18 Quay11

Posted 23 January 2013 - 05:27 PM

My DD's psychologist told us that it was often a 'girl' thing - social play - as opposed to boys playing with a 'thing'.

Drives me nuts too. My girl needs constant validation and attention, my boy is fine left alone to play (was nicknamed by one of his Granny's as 'the silent destroyer'). I've had to make it a defined thing for my daughter 'I am asking you to play ON YOUR OWN while I try and get your little brother down for a nap'. We've been practising and it seems to help.

#19 Guest_Dinah_Harris_*

Posted 23 January 2013 - 07:08 PM

Well, I should say that this afternoon, after she declined to have a sleep (usually she still has an hour), and I was faced withe the prospect of five hours of bored 4 year old girl, and she had been such a terror all morning, that I told her she was to entertain herself because mummy had things to do.

You know what?  She did it.  She filled a basket with some things and pretended to be a mummy to her stuffed elephant, did some painting and drawing and then did some water play in the front yard.  She didn't whinge about the TV or being booooorrrrreeeddd once!  The little devil CAN do it - but it must be easier to be lazy.

Thanks so much for all your replies.  Sometimes I think I just need permission to be the boss - that sounds so strange - because I'm constantly worried that I'm a bad mother.  So making her play by herself made me worry about causing her psychological harm.   rolleyes.gif

Thank goodness kindy starts next week, which will make everyone's life easier.  In the meantime - I know that she can play alone and with her sister and be perfectly fine.  Thanks again!

1 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 1 guests, 0 anonymous users


First look at Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones's Baby

Bridget is now in her 40s and is a successful publishing executive - but also has a pregnancy to contend with as well.

Newlyweds send bill to no-show guests

Planning a wedding can be stressful – and, as most newlyweds can attest, it can be very costly, too.

Claire Danes: acting out postnatal depression was difficult

Actress Claire Danes found it difficult pretending to have postnatal depression in Homeland, as she had just become a new mother herself.

Sneak peek: Geleeo self-cooling pram & high chair liners

We just spotted Geleeo, a brand new self-cooling pram liner you can buy in time for summer.

The moment a 92-year-old meets her great grandaughter

It's a heart-warming photo this family will treasure forever.

How to prepare for breastfeeding when you're still pregnant

While every woman's breastfeeding journey is different, many hurdles are shared. Knowing what to expect will enable you to make informed decisions if - or when - you meet challenges along the way.

Sneak peek: new Love Mae bamboo dinnerware designs

We do love ourselves some brand new designs in tried and true products. The renowned bamboo dinnerware from Love Mae has just had several more members join the family, in addition to a brand new website.

Mum who killed paedophile gets reduced sentence

A mother-of-five who killed a paedophile has had her jail sentence reduced by a judge who described her case as a "truly exceptional" one.

Toddler's silent debate with mum about naptime

He might not utter a single word - but this toddler is having a great debate with his mother about nap time.

Silence is golden ... or is it?

Silence is golden, or so the saying goes. But when it comes to children, quite the opposite is true.

Awards 2015: Vote now for a chance to win $2000

Vote for your favourite pregnancy, baby and toddler products for your chance to win your share of $2500 in cash prizes.

Scientists identify potential birth control 'pill' for men

Two drugs that help suppress the immune system in organ transplant patients may have a future as the long-sought birth control "pill" for men, new research suggests.

Running for beginners: taking the first steps

It's that time of year when the weather warms up and there's more opportunity to get out and go for a jog.

Tips for turning yourself into a morning person

Mornings are a great time to spend time in reflection or to get outside and get moving.

Thousands sign petition for unborn babies killed by domestic violence

Almost 8000 people have signed a petition calling for a law to recognise unborn babies killed by domestic violence in NSW.

Pregnant Sarah Harris tells body-shamers to 'get stuffed'

Television presenter Sarah Harris has a message for anyone who tries to body-shame pregnant women or new mums.

In defence of 'brexting'

Mums spend literally hours a day with a baby attached to their boob, or giving them a bottle. Surely they don't all need to be spent looking at the baby?

How a fellow passenger made a mum's day on a flight

As any parent who has ever travelled with a baby knows it can be a daunting experience. The stares and attitude of unsympathetic fellow travellers only serve to make the journey even more stressful. 


What's hot on EB

Stella McCartney honours mum with lacy bra

Fashion designer Stella McCartney has honoured her late mum, Linda McCartney, by designing a special bra for post-mastectomy patients.

Don't panic: A granddad midwife's guide for dads-to-be

Mark Harris has helped deliver 500 babies. And he's now telling fathers what to expect.

How to be a calm parent when you're feeling anything but

Being a calm parent takes a lot of work, sometimes more than is obvious to those around us.

The joy and isolation of being a stay-at-home dad

It's cool, kind of like a second childhood. I love him to bits and think, on average, I'm an okay dad. But I also want to talk about the other stuff.

How baby Teddy's short life is helping save thousands of lives

He may have only lived for 100 minutes, but that didn't stop baby Teddy from saving the lives of others.

A heartbreaking trail of missed chances in death of baby forgotten in car

A haunting reminder to stay mindful about babies in cars, especially as we approach summer.

What to do if your baby has tongue-tie

Tongue-tie can cause feeding problems. However once it is diagnosed, the condition can be easily treated.

How to move house without losing your mind

Some people move frequently, while others like to stay put. But everyone finds it stressful.

'She had nowhere to go': how new mum's life began to unravel

The birth of her first child should have been happiest of times for Campsie mother Phuong Cao, but friends say it marked the beginning of when her life began to unravel. 

Women giving birth to a son keep some of his Y chromosomes

It was an experiment doomed to failure - they were looking for male cells in female bodies. And their search was stunningly successful.

Photos: How babies fit in the womb

A gorgeous photo series shows babies in the first hours after their birth - as they were positioned in the womb.

Baby tries to persuade stubborn bulldog to walk, fails

We don't know what he's saying, but this baby has a very clear message for his bulldog pal: let's walk - NOW.

The best toddler gift ever? Nine gender-neutral play kitchen picks

Without a doubt, one of the best gifts for a toddler turning two or three is a play kitchen.

9 easy steps to improve your baby photography

With a few simple tips you can take your images from random happy snaps to lovely clean images that create beautiful lasting memories.



What are your favourite baby products?

The Essential Baby Awards are on now, and we need your help! Have your say on your top picks and you'll go in the draw to win a share of $2500.

Essential Baby and Essential Kids is the place to find parenting information and parenting support relating to conception, pregnancy, birth, babies, toddlers, kids, maternity, family budgeting, family travel, nutrition and wellbeing, family entertainment, kids entertainment, tips for the family home, child-friendly recipes and parenting. Try our pregnancy due date calculator to determine your due date, or our ovulation calculator to predict ovulation and your fertile period. Our pregnancy week by week guide shows your baby's stages of development. Access our very active mum's discussion groups in the Essential Baby forums or the Essential Kids forums to talk to mums about conception, pregnancy, birth, babies, toddlers, kids and parenting lifestyle. Essential Baby also offers a baby names database of more than 22,000 baby names, popular baby names, boys' names, girls' names and baby names advice in our baby names forum. Essential Kids features a range of free printable worksheets for kids from preschool years through to primary school years. For the latest baby clothes, maternity clothes, maternity accessories, toddler products, kids toys and kids clothing, breastfeeding and other parenting resources, check out Essential Baby and Essential Kids.