Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fostering Independant Play

I've always felt like independent play for kids is really important. From the time our son was a newborn, we have been working toward this goal of him playing independently, and not needing adult entertainment.

I often tell people that my 19 month old plays by himself, in his room with the door closed, for over an hour. They are shocked! I thought I'd detail the ways we built up to this in hopes that it is helpful to others.

INFANT (3-12months) 
The above ages are approximate, but when Tanner was a baby, I started very small with independent play. I would put him in his crib with the lights on and music playing. And surround with toys and books. I would get excited and upbeat and say "yay! it's time to play in your crib!"

I would explain to him that he was going to play in his crib for a few minutes while mommy took a shower. Many times, he would cry, but I would walk out waving and happy.

To begin with, while he was learning (and crying), my shower would last literally 5 minutes. Then I would go in and get him, still excited.
"Yay! Good job playing in your crib!"
"Mommy took a shower and now I'm back to get you!"

Each day, he cried less and less, and I was able to leave him for longer and longer. The max was usually about 30 minutes of quiet, happy playing while I showered and got dressed.

Additionally, when he woke from his naps each day, I didn't run upstairs and get him the second he opened his eyes. I'd let him roll around and play with his stuffed animals for about 15minutes. This was more reinforcement that his crib was fun, and not only for sleeping.

We continued this routine most days until he was about 15 months old and transitioned to 1 nap.

I believe Tanner was 15 months old when he transitioned to 1 nap per day.
I decided that we still both needed the break that was the morning nap. So I still put him in his crib for quiet time, at the time he would normally fall asleep.
(sometimes he would fall asleep, and I would have to go up and get him so his afternoon nap wasn't ruined).

We went through the same routine - books, toys, etc. And lots of happy faces. "It's quiet time! Yay! Have fun! Mommy will be back in a little bit!"

He would stay for about 30 minutes, like before, but eventually, he got bored in his crib. And he started regressing - where he wouldn't stay up there at all!

I thought ... well, we both need quiet time. He gets bored and needs a change of scenery. And I need a break. So, getting rid of quiet time is not an option. Let's find a new solution.

I read online a little, and decided that we would try quiet time in his room. I bought special "quiet time only" toys. So he would be excited about getting them out each time he went in his room.

I baby proofed his room REALLY well.  We also have a video monitor - so I can see him at all times.

This was definitely a transition for both of us. The first time, he stood by the door and only lasted about 10 minutes. And there was crying. I don't love letting my child cry, but I also think fostering independence, space, and a separation between mom and baby is important.

I've decided that my world does not revolve around my child. He is a huge part of it, and my favorite thing in the entire world is being his mom. But, I can't be attached to him 24/7. We have a similar philosophy with sleep.

The transition really only took 2 or 3 days of consistency! The first day, he cried on and off for 10 minutes. The second day, he cried for a few minutes, then played for a while. And probably by day 3 or 4, he whined for a minute while I walked out, and then turned around and started playing!

I always want to be the one that decides when quiet time starts and stops. So, after a little bit of time, I went in while he was still HAPPY. I didn't want to wait until he started crying and telling me he was done. Because I didn't want him to think HE was deciding to come out of his room.

I extended quiet time in his room a little at a time each day... and now, he stays in there happily playing for over an hour!!

Sometimes he even points to the door and waves me out of the room. He likes the time to himself to do whatever he wants.

When Tanner was about 12months old, he started getting really clingy to me. Like, I couldn't even sit on the couch with my coffee without him whining / crying. I continued to stay very consistent with my answer to that:

"Mommy is sitting on the couch right now. I'm not going anywhere, and I can see you playing. I won't be getting on the floor with you right now. Why don't you go find your trains?"

This is not to say that I NEVER get on the floor and play with him. But, again, I don't see myself as his constant entertainment. I want him to learn how to entertain himself.

If he stood by my legs continuing to whine, I didn't give in. I just kept redirecting and reminding him of some fun toys to go find.

It didn't take long for that to sink in. Now, I can read, clean, whatever, and he plays by himself. And many times I CHOOSE to throw a ball back and forth or build a train track. But I'm not forced to because of whining.

Another time I tend to get whining about wanting to get picked up is while I make dinner. When he was little, I would put him in the ergo. But now that he is bigger, he can very much understand that I'm busy and can't pick him up. Also, he doesn't want to be confined to the Ergo anymore. He gets a few options at dinner time:

1. You can stand on the chair next to the counter and help me.
2. You can stand right next to me / hold my hand (while I get out ingredients, stir the dinner on the stove, etc.)
3. You can get some toys and play next to me.

He usually chooses to hold my hand and then gets bored in a few minutes and goes and finds his toys.
Again, this took consistency. And some evenings of him allowing him to stand at my feet and cry for a few minutes. But any time that crying during a transition is involved, it usually only takes a day or two, and then the behavior that you're trying to train is born!