Independent Playtime: When It’s Just Not Working

Does your child struggle with playing alone? If Independent Playtime isn’t working, find the help you need in this troubleshooting guide so you BOTH can start enjoying the benefits of this magic parenting tool.

Independent Playtime isn't working | oting guide so you BOTH can start enjoying the benefits of this magic parenting tool. Independent play | solo play | play by themselves | play alone | routines | quiet time | play independently | babywise | toddlerwise | preschoolwise | encourage independence | babies | toddlers | preschool

Did you know…

Independent Playtime is an amazing parenting tool that boosts your child’s development. But that’s not all. It also provides guilt-free break time for YOU! Time to do nothing but enjoy the quiet. Or time to be extremely productive!

Ya, ya, that’s great. But it just doesn’t work for my child.

If this is you, then today’s post has got you covered.

Do you struggle to get your child to play quietly alone? Then you’ll probably roll your eyes when I tell you how great it is. But what if I told you it doesn’t just happen for the “lucky moms”?

Seriously! Your child can do this too! But it’s a skill that needs to be taught.

All it takes is a few helpful tips (a lot of patience) and some consistency. And don’t worry. It’s easier than you think.

Before we dive in to some possibilities of why Independent Playtime isn’t working, here’s a little background:


This is the 5th post in the Independent Playtime series – a series where you’ll learn all about Independent Playtime and how to use it.

Ok, now on to today’s post. Why isn’t Independent Playtime working? Well, you’re not alone!

Yes, every child plays differently. But my job here is to help this be as successful as it can be. For you and your child.

This post will help you troubleshoot so you both can start to enjoy the many benefits it has to offer. Let’s get started.

Independent Playtime isn't working | oting guide so you BOTH can start enjoying the benefits of this magic parenting tool. Independent play | solo play | play by themselves | play alone | routines | quiet time | play independently | babywise | toddlerwise | preschoolwise | encourage independence | babies | toddlers | preschool


When Independent Playtime isn’t working, one of the first things you can do is check the timing of playtime.


Keep in mind your child’s age when you’re deciding the length of Independent Playtime. If it’s too long, he could get bored and frustrated. (Although if you’re consistent, you’ll be able to stretch the time as he gets older.)

Read this post to learn all about the appropriate Independent Playtime lengths according to age.


Unless you’re specifically using quiet time to transition out of naps, try to avoid having it too close to naptime.

If your kiddo is tired and grumpy, there’s a good chance Independent Playtime won’t go well. Instead, find a time of day when she’s usually alert and happy. This is especially important if  it’s new or suddenly isn’t working anymore.

But you won’t always have to be so careful with your timing. As my kids got older and more experienced at playtime, the time of day didn’t matter as much anymore. Sometimes, I’d even use it during their grumpiest time of day (I’m talking to you, witching hour) to help keep them calm and occupied so I could make dinner.


I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time focusing on things when I’m hungry. Our kids are no different! Don’t forget to fit in a little snack before you send them on their independent little ways.


If playtime has been going well up to this point, and your child’s around the age of a toddler, she might need some more freedom! Find a room or area in the house you can turn into a safe playspace, pick out some fun toys, and give Roomtime a try.

If you have no idea what Roomtime is, learn all about it here! (PSA: Trust me, it’s great.)

The Peaceful Parent Starter Guide | This Time Of Mine
child playing with toys during Independent Playtime


Toys are another thing to check if Independent Playtime isn’t working.

One way Independent Playtime is different from free play is that you choose the toys (mostly). This helps him learn to be creative and practice focusing on what he can do with the things he has.

So rather than letting playtime be a free-for-all, set out specific toys that can be used during that time. Then as he gets older, he’ll have more say on what he plays with.

But be careful on how much he has to choose from.


Imagine walking into a shoe store that has everything out of the boxes…all mixed up. Oh, and it also has some appliances and a few grocery items mixed in as well. Choice overload? Yes!

Your child can easily become over-stimulated when there’s too much to choose from. I know my kids have a much harder time playing when their play areas are a mess or when there’s too much out at a time. That’s when I usually hear “but there’s nothing to play with…” Ironic.

That doesn’t mean you have to keep play areas immaculate at all times. But do try to organize things in a way that will promote more play by having less available from the start.


What kinds of toys are available during playtime? If they’re too easy, your child will get bored. But be careful not to make them too advanced either. Save those for a time when he can get help.


Even the best mix of toys can get old after awhile! Make sure you rotate what’s available often.

baby learning during Independent Playtime


It’s true that some children naturally play alone better than others. But it’s a skill that can be taught.

So rather than writing it off altogether, use it as an opportunity to teach. The benefits for your child (and you!) are incredible.

When troubleshooting Independent Playtime, it’s important to check the timing and the toys, like we talked about above. But I want this to be as successful as it can be for you.

So here are 8 more tips that will help you as you teach your child the important skill of playing independently:


This tip comes first. If Independent Playtime isn’t working, don’t give up! It takes time for a child to learn a new skill.

And that skill comes easier to some than others. If your child is the oldest, she might struggle because she’s used to having all of your attention. And if she’s the youngest, she might struggle for the same reason (especially when her older siblings are in school).

Maybe Independent Playtime isn’t working simply because she started a little older and just needs more time to get better at it. And, of course, it might just be her personality.

Just give it time. It can be a bit of work, but it’s worth it. I promise.


Consistency is key to the success of Independent Playtime. Try your best to make it a part of your daily routine.

Of course, life gets busy and some days it won’t work out. But aim for as many days in a row as possible.

And if you go on vacation or are especially busy for a period of time, setbacks are completely normal. You can start over with shorter playtimes and work your way back to what it was before.


Instead of “ok, go play!”, take your child to playtime. Make it an official part of your routine by telling her it’s time for playtime, leading her there and helping her get set up.


Using a timer for playtime helps your child know that there’s a beginning and an end to this part of his routine. Set the timer and let him know you’ll be back when the timer goes off. This will help him be more ok with you leaving.

It’s up to you whether you leave the timer in the room or not, but I found it helpful to keep it with me. I wanted my kids to enjoy playtime and not be focused on how much longer they had.


If your child really struggles with playing alone, start by playing with her during playtime. This will be especially helpful during the transition to Roomtime.

Teach her how to play with the toys she has. Give her ideas on what to do. And each day, stay in the room less and less.

The ultimate goal is for your child to play completely (and happily) alone during this time.


One of the things you’re teaching here is obedience. If your child isn’t given other opportunities throughout the day to obey, Independent Playtime won’t work as well.

If he’s not used to boundaries, he won’t feel the need to stay in playtime. He’ll be mad that he has to stay. And he won’t have any fun.

So find other opportunities to have him practice obedience. Remember, you’re the boss. (Although toddlers SURE have a way of making us feel otherwise!)


One thing I’ve emphasized in each post in this series is the importance of praise.

Your child needs to know when she does a good job in playtime. This will reinforce her good behavior during playtime and help her look forward to the next one even more.

Children are anxious to please and need to know when they do things right. It’s part of their learning process.


You may be doing everything right and your child might love playtime. And then, one day, things could change.

Progress is never a straight line, so don’t overthink it when it stops working. Maybe your child is just going through a developmental leap. Or your schedule hasn’t been able to stay consistent lately. Or maybe he just decides to freak out for no good reason at all. (After all, logic isn’t exactly part of his makeup yet.)

Just chalk it up as a minor setback and keep at it.

If he keeps getting out, put him back in. If he cries the whole time, come back with a happy face. (And remind him that he doesn’t need to cry because you’ll be back.)

You can even shorten the time if you need to for awhile.

Oh, and if he starts completely destroying his room during playtime…well, I feel your pain. I’ve been there. The next post will help you out with that.

baby bored during Independent Playtime


Independent Playtime is one of the best parenting tools I was given years ago. I love it. But that doesn’t mean it’s always gone perfectly.

Each of my children were different. Each phase of my life has been different. But we’ve done our best to keep it part of our regular routine and our whole family has benefited.

I hope you’ve found something here that will help make Independent Playtime more successful. I want it to be a part of your routine that both you and your child look forward to!

In the meantime, good luck! You’ve got this! If you’d like any more information, feel free to check out the other posts in the series:

And if you have any other questions, I’d be happy to help! Leave a comment and I will get back to you!

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Independent Playtime isn't working | oting guide so you BOTH can start enjoying the benefits of this magic parenting tool. Independent play | solo play | play by themselves | play alone | routines | quiet time | play independently | babywise | toddlerwise | preschoolwise | encourage independence | babies | toddlers | preschool

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