Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Independent Play

So....I've been wanting to write about independent play for awhile now and how it is nonexistent in Everett. I've hesitated because I didn't want to focus on what is to me a negative aspect. Not only that but also because I haven't been able to put it into the correct words for it to be understood without coming across as if I was complaining that Everett does not play independently. It's a concern more than anything and my desire to have an independent child. And perhaps the opportunity to have breaks in the day where I can make lunch or dinner, just anything, without him getting angry that I have left his side. I came across a post that a fellow mama wrote on the Crunchy Mamas board about how her 3 1/2 year old daughter doesn't play well independently:

"I'm looking for a bit of advice. My DD is 3 1/2 and is an only child. She doesn't play well independently and never has. I think part of this may simply be her personality: She is very verbal - constantly has something to say. She wants a verbal response to EVERYTHING. Even if she says something simple like, "I colored the flower pink," she expects a response. And will ask for one if I don't give her one. For role play games, she expects a parent to be the partner. She claims to like baby dolls but won't play with the ones she has. Toys in her bedroom might as well not exist, as she won't go in there and choose anything on her own. If I am in there putting away laundry, she will play, but chats to me all the while.

I used to be a preschool teacher and my mom is a teacher as well, and I baby sat/nannied for all of my teenage and college years. So I feel like I have a decent handle on reasonable expectations, typical behavior, etc... But its so different when its your own kid, you know? I can't go to the bathroom without her coming with me - and not only that but her wanting me to "find her in the bathtub" or "pretend to be the mommy cat" while I'm on the toilet, lol. Last night she was at the kitchen table doing some art (of her own choosing) while I was straightening up. I left twice to put things away in other rooms and both times she hopped up from the table, following me, asking where I was going/what I was doing.

She's very demanding in other ways as well. Even though she's very bright and quite capable of doing things on her own, she hollers for assistance at every opportunity. I am sure that since she's an only child, we do cater to this more than other parents might. But I am aware of it and have her do things on her own pretty often. Its just that it is a battle the whole time, with me standing by and "coaching" her the whole way through.

I am just recently seeing glimpses that she might be outgrowing this a bit - but it is still rare enough that if she is playing independently it strikes me as unusual. Almost all of her toys are at eye level and easily accessible. (Although I have tried the opposite approach of putting most of it away and rotating through the options to make things seem more exciting, which wasn't effective either.)

She's not clingy in social situations, though. She does love her friends and for the most part will go and play as long as she is familiar with the other kids. She had a little friend over on Saturday and I hardly saw them for the two hours he was there. She's not one to play with a random child at the park, but I can't say I blame her for that. She does sometimes take a while to warm up to new places, especially playgrounds. She's a bit intimidated by the play structures (for example, she doesn't much care for slides). Again - this seems to come down to her need/want for me to help her with everything.

Sorry, that was long!! Any suggestions/advice? Will she outgrow it, or do I need to try other ways to encourage independence?

This was my response:

"I've had the same concern for my 27 month old son. You would think that our children are capable and perhaps should be playing independently by themselves for periods of time. I'll take "short" periods of time over no periods! I've researched this lack of behavior, if you want to call it that, with no avail. So, I'm currently working on getting my son out more in public by going to weekly story time where he's around other children. My reasoning in taking him to be around other children is that he will become independent and confident enough to leave my side to involve himself with them.

A difference between your daughter and my son is that he becomes quite angry if I leave his side when we are at home or doesn't get a verbal response or acknowledgment for every single little thing. And I mean, over every single little thing. It becomes exhausting for me. I can't get dinner ready without him crying and whining and hanging on my leg, making it next to impossible to cook, let alone do anything else.

Aside from taking him out and perhaps teaching him to be independent around other children in hopes that he will and continue to be that way at home, I'm at a loss.

Thank you for posting this. I can completely empathize and have been wanting to post the same thing but didn't know the right words to explain my thoughts and my concerns."

I've mentioned in prior blog posts and to my family and friends that Everett is a clingy, needy child. I receive advice that it's just a phase and he'll get past it but it's never really been a phase. He's always been like this and as he's getting older and more verbal, it's becoming very wearing on me. Like the fellow mama mentioned, her daughter wants acknowledgment for everything and will holler for assistance at every opportunity even though she is fully capable of doing it on her own. Everett has both of those identical behaviors. If it occurred every once in awhile, I would accept it and move on, but it occurs all the time, with everything. Even though he is an only child, we do not cater to him nor are there for his beck and call. I often times tell him that "he is a big boy and can do it on his own." He asks for assistance on such things as feeding him a bite of toast or picking up his train that fell down or that he threw. He refuses to do things on his own and wants my coaching for everything. The times he does without wanting me right there is far and few and doesn't last but all for a few minutes. The kicker is, he is only like this when I am around. If I am gone and not an option, he is a happy-go-lucky, independent boy. Both my husband and parents can account to this.

I am hoping that getting him out and around other children on a consistent weekly basis will help his confidence and promote some independent play (around me). Do you have any advice or any input?


  1. Toddlers are complex! I don't understand them at all! We have a different problem of him acting up around me and DH - you know, that "terrible 2" part of the deal. But at daycare, they do not see that side of him, ever. He is a whiny kid with us, but at school, he is like a different kid! (Same thing with naps- he will easily lie down and take naps there, but it is like pulling teeth to get him to nap on the weekends!)

    So unfortunately I do not have an answer for you. It seems like it's a form of manipulation. He knows that he can push our buttons and gets a reaction, so he does. But WHY he feels he can do that with only us... it baffles me.

    A group setting with his peers may be a good start. I think daycare had really helped Liam. The older 2 year olds set an example. He watches them and imitates them. And sometimes there's just too much going on so he will retreat to a corner and flip through a book or something. It's really interesting to watch a group dynamic of toddlers. Have you ever seen Toy Story 3?? The scene where Andy's toys first get to the daycare - and the toddlers wreak havoc on them... THAT IS TOTALLY how it is!!! LOL

    Anyway, good luck with everything. Update when you find a solution!

  2. Hey there. I can't completely 100% empathize, but I do have issues with B wanting me to do everything and not wanting anything to do with Daddy... if I'm there, he wants me to get him juice, he wants me to get him milk, he wants me to clean his face, etc. I'm not so sure he can't play independently but he definitely is a Momma's boy. Sometimes it is tiring but not nearly as tiring as it sounds for you. I can't give you any pointers as I haven't figured out how to fix this myself... but I wish you luck and hope you find a resolution soon!!! xox

  3. good job for putting yourself out there first of all. I think we are all afriad sometimes to admit what we think are shortcommings as a mother and to ask for help! The only thing I can really suggest is what I do from time to time - sort of like cry it out - and just ignore him. I know it sounds mean, like cry it out does, and I don't mean for long periods of time or if he's really in distress, but I think it's an emotional hurdle for them to get over, that they will be "okay" without playing with mommy. Sometime when you are making lunch, just tell him to go play, and keep doing what you are doing. I bet eventually he will get bored and want to play with this toys. And, whenever you do catch him playing indepentandly do something to give him recognition and encouragement. I read something recently to walk over quietly and give them a hug, or a wink or a kiss. I'm always hesitant to, because then Nicolas turns his attention back on me, but I do think it's working over the long term. E is a very sweet boy, and loves his mommy! And you sure love him :) But I agree, we have to teach them to have independant skills. Good thing you are taking him to social situations with other kids as well. And we need a play date soon! :)