While awaiting your firstborn, you may have visions of folding laundry or reading a book as your little one coos to himself a few feet away.
Then reality hits and between feeding, changing, and doing strange acrobatics you’d never have expected to get this little guy to sleep, there’s no time for anything else.
Our babies need us, and that’s a fact, but there are lots of creative ways to hack mom life. Getting your baby comfortable playing alone is one of your best tools.
So how in the world do you do it? Well, my first piece of advice is going to sound a little harsh…
Get out of their face.
Eek, I’m sorry, but this is just so important. We all want to interact with and just plain love on new babies, but the truth is, we tend to overdo this. Taking a step back will set the groundwork for a baby who can play alone. Let newborns observe their world and don’t constantly interrupt them or try to entertain them. Allow babies to discover that a rattle makes a noise, instead of showing him by shaking it in his face. Resist the temptation to direct your baby’s attention to yourself.
Providing opportunities for the smallest babies to become immersed in observing their environment helps them fine-tune their focus and attention span. Think of yourself as a quiet observer and don’t just swoop your baby up anytime you feel like it. She might be busy! Don’t worry, you can still swoop your baby up plenty of the time, and talking to her is definitely recommended. Just try to be mindful and keep it balanced.
Set up a consistent time for independent play
A great routine is to get baby up from a nap, feed and diaper him, and then let him watch a mobile or do tummy time with a board book propped in front of him. Get him used to doing an activity at the same time each day where he leads the action. Use a consistent and defined space, like a blanket on the living room carpet.
Choose the right toys
Select toys that are developmentally appropriate. Switch them up just enough to keep baby interested, and update them as she grows older.
Newborns do best with high contrast images and simple mobiles. A 4-month-old usually stays busiest with something with a face (think Sofie) or a Kleenex box filled with silks or small objects to pull out. An O-ball is another great option at this age. Around 8 months, babies become interested in different types of rattles, and around 1 year a shape sorter or stacking cups are perfect.
Keep choices minimal for independent play. Usually, one carefully selected activity will do it. Babies are easily overwhelmed and tend to throw everything in a pile if there are too many options. This gets old fast, which does not support lengthy or productive play.
Gradually extend the length of time
Start small and gradually lengthen the amount of time. If your baby is engaged in play, let him continue rather than cutting him off, if possible. At the same time, don’t stretch it too much. You want to “kill it before it dies” to keep a positive association with independent play time.
Helping your baby develop independent play skills is a slow and gradual process. Don’t expect too much too soon, but always keep working on it. It will pay off! You will reap the benefits as he grows. This isn’t just for the parents either—it will positively impact the child himself in even greater ways. A child who can focus, observe, and explore objects will grow up intelligent and have an edge academically. And of course, there’s no need for whining when you can occupy yourself.