I remember one of the first times one of my friends ever met my daughter. My daughter was about 10 months old at the time, and not really crawling yet, but sitting very well and ‘scooting’ on her own. When my friend (a mother herself) saw that I put some toys in a circle around my daughter and just sat nearby with my visitor while the little one played, I got some comments about it. “I can’t believe how well behaved and independent she is”, my friend commented. She meant it as a compliment, obviously, but I couldn’t help but think about whether or not this was a good thing.
The guilt of independent play
You might be wondering why, as a new mom, I would feel guilty about the fact that my daughter can play by herself. She’s now nearly 15 months old and wanders the house (all safety precautions in tact, of course) while I try to get some housework done. It’s not as though I never have an eye on her, because I’m always within sight and within reach, but I’m not totally amusing her at all times. And yet I still question myself on how long I let her play by herself each day. Why? Because I know plenty of other moms with babies the same age who are with their little ones in one-on-one interactive play nearly every waking moment. Some moms don’t believe that you should ever leave your baby to play alone because it’s akin to abandoning your baby.
What studies show
There are various studies out there (which you can find results to just by typing ‘independent play study’ into any search engine) that show that independent play is not only perfectly fine amongst babies and toddlers, but should actually be encouraged for everyone’s health. It’s good for baby because it teaches her to explore her environment and it helps cultivate her personality and imagination. But it’s also good for mom (or dad or both) because it gives you time to breathe, time to get chores done, and above all, teaches you to give up a little control.
Independent play on your own terms
How independent play is handled by one person doesn’t necessarily match how another person may handle it, but either way, the general idea is that your baby leads the play and uses her imagination instead of you setting up all the play. For some parents, this may mean that you simply sit nearby and just observe. For other parents, it means trying to get some chores done around the house while baby plays nearby. Either way, most studies found agree that you should be available to your baby (as always) at any given moment. It’s important that your little one explores different avenues of entertaining herself, but knows that you’re still around to meet her needs.
Letting go of the guilt
It’s easy to realize that you shouldn’t feel so guilty about having your child experience independent play when you can list so many reasons it’s good for her. It doesn’t mean you love her any less because you need a moment to breathe and read a quick magazine article while she’s sitting in front of you with her own toys. Remember, you have the next 20 years or so to cohabitate with this little person, and that’s plenty of time to be around each other! So enjoy your little one’s budding independence and cherish every moment that she does want your attention (which will be quite plenty in the years to come). You’re doing her a favor by letting her explore her imagination, after all.