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7 Ways to Encourage Your Baby to Play Solo

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Learn how to nurture your baby's growing independence (and maybe give yourself a break, too!

Posted October 5, 2020

Article by What to Expect. Image by Parents Magazine.

Is your babe-in-arms literally in your arms all day long, fussing the minute you put him down for any reason, even to play? While carting around an 8-month-old is sure to buff your biceps, it doesn't give you much chance to meet your own needs, or those of anyone else in your household either. Plus, it doesn't allow your little bruiser to flex his own muscle and develop important skills like sitting, crawling and cruising.

If you're ready to get him out of the habit of being held and carried all the time and encourage him to play on his own, try this gentle step-by-step plan: 1. Give the right kind of attention. Make sure that he's getting your undivided devotion several times a day, whether it's while you tickle his tummy, read him a story or stack blocks for him to knock over. If you fill his tank with enough focused Mommy (and/or Daddy) time, he may be more willing to play independently at other times of the day.

2. Check the basics. Is he really fussing just to be held, or is something else going on? Maybe he's hungry, thirsty, wet or tired. Maybe he needs his diaper changed more often (some babies couldn't care less, some like a clean, dry bottom pretty much all the time). Or perhaps his nap schedule needs some minor adjustments. Experiment a bit to see if meeting one of these needs does the trick.

3. I'm bored." He can't whine like a toddler or roll his eyes like a teen (yet), but he may just be looking for a change of scenery. If he was playing on the floor in his room, try switching him to a new locale like the kitchen. One tried and true trick: Giving him a pot to bang on with a wooden spoon while you get dinner together or do dishes is a surefire baby-pleaser — if you can take the racket!

4. Provide plenty of playthings. Once he's settled into a new spot, offer him a few toys, books and other things to keep him busy — preferably things he likes but hasn't played with too recently.

5. Teach him how. Is he still fretting, despite his tantalizing toys? Maybe he needs a quick how-to. Roll his jingly ball so he can hear its noise, or show him how to play his toy piano.

6. Play peekaboo. Once he's having some fun (or even if he protests a bit), tell him you need to leave for a minute, and then do it. (You're not going far — just out of his line of vision.) On your way out, do a few quick peekaboos around the corner so he starts to learn that even when you go away, you'll come back soon.

7. Come back to him. After a few minutes, return to your baby's side and play with him for a while. Each time you leave, stay away a bit longer, even if he's not thrilled about it (just avoid waiting until he's screaming to come back, or he'll quickly jump right to howling the next time he wants you). Send the message that a little alone time is good. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.


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