Show Notes: Independent Play and How to Encourage it

Independent Play Image

Does your toddler struggle to play independently? This is common and frustrating, especially when you are on a schedule to get dinner on the table. Dr Ashley Soderlund from Nurture and Thrive Blog provides great context and suggestions for gently extending independent play. Ashley specialises in emotional development and stress regulation.


The problem

  • 4-9 month olds commonly develop stranger anxiety.
  • It isn’t until 12 months old that babies fully understand that they are separate from their parents.
  • Separation anxiety peaks between 12-24 months old.
  • This is a phase and it will pass.
  • Difficulty with independent play can arise from separation anxiety.
  • At 18 months 15-20 minutes of independent play is great.


  • Whenever you can, especially each morning, fill up the attention tank. Give your child lots of undivided attention.
    • Let your child lead the play (if they can direct the play with you, they will learn to direct it alone).
  • When you need to do something, set a timer (short initially). While the timer is going I will be doing this, and you will be doing that.
  • Acknowledge that waiting is hard. An episode of Daniel Tiger teaches waiting (links below).
  • Suggest independent play activities.
  • Acknowledge good independent play and comment on how fun it sounded. Be interested in your child’s experience.
  • Schedule independent play times so they are expected.


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