Encouraging Toddler Independence
Berkeley Parents Network >
Encouraging Toddler Independence
We are lucky enough to have full-time daycare at home for our daughter. Although
her babysitter is very responsible and helpful, she doesn't seem to know how to play
with her. She takes her to the park and on long walks but seldom plays with her toys
or reads with her unless we specifically ask.
Our daughter is very unhappy when we leave for work and clings to us when we
come home. She loved her previous babysitter who was fantastic at playing with her.
At 18 months, could this be more about it being a clingy stage and less about her
being unhappy? Should we be less concerned about how much play she's getting at
this age? Would a group daycare situation be more stimulating for her?
Our daughter is very smart for her age and seems to thrive on stimulation and
At 18 months a kid needs interactive play. So yes, put her in a
daycare, or at least in a nanny share situation with a nanny who
likes to play and read and sing and basically interact with your
child. Later on, your daughter will be able to play alone and
initiate play with the sitter, but until then she does need
someone to help her play.
I've been a Nanny for a long time, and have relevant education -
and reading and playing is just so crucial for the child's
development and wellbeing. I think your concern is absolutely
It's great that your Nanny takes your girl out of the house, but
the lack of playing and reading is serious, IMO.
Not only does a normal, curious child enjoy playing, but playing
is the most important way of learning and developing, both in my
personal experience and according to child development/psychology
Being read to is also very important to develop language, and
it's a wonderful, calm, bonding experience, and should be done
I don't suppose you'll want to change your Nanny, as you sound
otherwise happy with her, but I'm sure your child would benefit
greatly if you address the situation. Your Nanny might even find
that playing with your girl makes her own day more fun, too!
Best of luck :)
This isn't an answer to your question, but language development
is super important. Reading books together should be a daily
thing. Also, does your caregiver talk and converse with your
child all day long? That's what kids need.So often I see
caregivers pusing kids around in strollers or watching them at
the park without talking to them. Everything in a child's day is
an opportunity to learn language. ''Momma's shirt. Sam's shirt'',
''Do you see the swings?'', ''Hey, there's a doggie!'', ''Would you
like the cracker or the bottle?'' etc.
i have a son who is almost 2. all they do at that age (or 18
months) is play, read, run around.
they thrive and learn from playing and reading. it's imperative
for their emotional and cognitive development.
out sitter plays with my son all day and when he sees her he
says ''bye, bye'' to me.
your child needs play. i'd change sitters or put him in daycare.
follow your instincts
I've been wondering for the past few months if I play with my children
enough. I'm a playful person, I enjoy tickling, chasing, and reading to
my 12mo and 28mo children. I take them to the garden, park, and long
stroller rides. My husband, who is more serious than I, but he has a
goofy/corny side to him that I do not have, and also has a knack for
coming up with creative physical games that bring shrills of laughter
from our children.
With two babies so close together and caring for them all day I think I'm
too tired to be really creative. How have other parents been playful?
Can anyone share some games and interractions that were fun? I need
some ideas. Thank you
All your children need is to know you love them. The amount of time you
spend ''playing'' isn't what counts. You have to be yourself and do what
comes natural to you. Its great that your husband gets them to laugh but
your children need you for other reasons also.
Your question really hit home today. I just received a gift for my
10-month-old, and the box had big sheets of brown paper crumpled up in it.
The baby and I had enormous fun playing with these sheets of paper -- we
went on for almost half an hour, crumpling them up, tossing them around,
making tents out of them and crawling underneath -- both he and I were
laughing so much.
I find that my son is often like that; he likes simple things more than
fancy toys: we throw balls into a big box and watch them bounce back, or
roll balls back and forth across the coffee table; make big stacks out of
different sized boxes and knock them over -- and I've played with a couple
of two-year-olds who seemed to like this sort of thing as well.
Just find some (safe) junk, let the kids at it, watch them for a minute, and
join in when they seem to be having fun. Of course, you have to be willing
to clean up a bit after...
I don't necessarily play with my kids - but their play is my life. I treat
play in a Continum Concept sort of way - when I feel like it, I'll play with
them (I have a 7, 5 and 2yo and a 5mo) but mostly they integrate their play
into my day (parallel to me - helping me with chores, in the garden, etc.).
Being a mom there is much pressure to be and do so many things...In my case,
especially when I'm feeling too tired or overwhelmed to lighten things up, I
enjoy the help of my son's teenage cousins who have boundless stamina for
fun and silly games. If you don't have teen relatives, you might consider
hiring a teen helper to visit once in a while for this sort of activity,
which could also give you a well deserved break.
My eighteen month old boy seems to have less ability to play by
himself than other tots I see. He insists on direct interaction
with either mommy, daddy, or his morning nanny 100% of the time.
I see other children amusing themselves, or at least tolerating
it when their parents are talking to other adults or on the
phone. Our boy wants to play with us and I mean with our
complete focus. I feel touched by his love, but I am also
wondering if we are neglecting to help him develop his
independence. On the other hand, the books I have read say that
when a need is satisfied it disappears. At this point, after a
year and a half of putting many of my own needs aside to satisfy
his, I'm worn out and beginning to get a little resentful,
despite the wonder and joy he has brought to our lives. (My
husband and I were once away from him for 2.5 hours, that's it)
However, moms of older children have told me to savor every
moment of this, before you know it they don't even want to play
with you. I would hate to push him away, training him to not
come to me. Maybe there is a middle ground here, maybe I just
need to hang in and push my adult needs aside even longer. Can
folks who've had a very demanding child comment?
Giving, giving, gone
Boy, do I hear you. We have a just-turned-5 year old who sounds
VERY similar. Screamed whenever we left the room (when he was
too young to follow us, that is), didn't want to play by himself
or with other children, etc. We had one night out in his first
year too, heh.
I can tell you from our experience that this has nothing to do
with a ''needs met will disappear'' kind of issue; this is his
*personality*. Our son is EXTREMELY social and outgoing, once he
could talk he literally talked to everyone he saw. I don't think
your experience reflects any deficiency in meeting his needs or
in your parenting, it's just that he gets his energy and pleasure
through interacting with people instead of things (toys).
It certainly has its negative side, but the joys became more
obvious as he got older. I don't want to just come off like your
friends who have told you ''be happy while you've got it'', people
told us that as well and it just made us grit our teeth. :)
What I mean is that you start to realize, when he can interact
with you on more levels, that an outgoing and social personality
is a real blessing. He makes friends extremely easily, he
absolutely LOVES having babysitters (heh), he's not materialistic
(I see so many kids who just want ''more more more stuff'', but our
son just wants to play with PEOPLE, whatever they're doing!), he
develops social skills much earlier than other children, and the
games he plays are social games (acting, role-playing, jokes,
that sort of thing) much more often than individual activities
(like building, or pushing cars or trains around). He loves
drawing, but literally every thing he draws is FOR someone; he's
extremely giving and loving. He snuggles and cuddles and is very
I'm going on a bit here, but you get the idea. Sometimes it's
hard to interpret a baby's personality in the same terms we do an
older child or adult, just because their means of expression are
so limited (e.g. in this case ''he's clingy and demanding'' unfolds
into ''he's really social, extroverted, and outgoing'' as he grows).
So take heart, not only does it get easier but you will be the
envy of your friends as you drop your child off for school and he
runs as fast as he can to see all his friends (and tells you all
about his day afterwards), while their children are having
separation ''issues'' :)
Eliot, Matthias' dad
I too have an intensely attached child. She's now two and I've
just kind of pushed the issue to maintain my sanity.
Although I agree that it's important to meet your child's needs so
that they don't get displaced, I think the resentment bred by the
constant giving you described is not healthy for anybody either.
I've learned that there are certain situations that make it worse
for her: new people, new places, and the end of the day are touchy
for her. I recently declined an invitation to a beloved cousin's
wedding -- much to the astonishment of my family -- because it was
a no-kid event in the evening far from home. The evening (new)
babysitter in a strange place would have been way too much for my
daughter to handle.
I have generally intensely screened anybody caring for my
daughter, spent a lot of time with the two of them initially, and
given painstakingly thorough directions. I've turned some very
nice people away after an initial try out. I often think how
nutty I must seem to parents with mellow babies. I won't leave
her with anybody who gets anxious with crying or who doesn't have
good intuition for how to really *engage* her in things. (Few
people do unfortunately. She's very sensitive to being patronized
with meaningless distractions.) I have managed time to do things
without her this way. She cries sometimes, even now. I have a
cell phone and tell whoever is taking care of her to call me if
she doesn't stop crying after 10 minutes. This way, if I don't
get a call, I can let it go and enjoy my time.
I hope this helps. It's hard to understand your situation unless
you've been there.
Eighteen months is a notoriously clingy stage. At this point,
kids are in the comfort vs. independence struggle.
However, you said that your son's demand for attention has
been going on since he was an infant. Perhaps rather than
the all or nothing approach, you could ease him toward
more indeendant play. Do you belong to a play group or a
moms' group? Perhaps interaction with peers could help.
Another thought is to give him play tasks that foster a bit
more independence. For instance, we have a kitchen
cabinet that holds my son's ''cooking'' tools. When it's time
to make a meal, I ask him to get his bowls and spoons and
help me stir. When we first started this game, I had to do a
lot more hands-on play with him. But as he's grown a bit, he
likes to cook more on his own. That has helped him to
play more on his own at other times, too. I'm there, but
focused on my own tasks while he is with his own.
OK, I can completely relate because I too have a demanding 18
mo. My daughter is demanding in a way that manifests itself more
as separation anxiety. While your son seems happy to play with
(nay demand time from) your husband OR you, my daughter pretty
much fixates on me all the time. What my husband and I are
learning since this is our first is that you do have to pick
your battles and you will feel like a broken record trying to
help them to understand you. I recommend that you encourage
your son to find a toy or game that he likes and play with him
on the floor for a few minutes and then try to walk into the
other room while you're still talking to him. Try to break away
for a few minutes at a time and then return, so that he
understands you will come back when you say you will. Eventually
try to grow the time to ten minutes, 15 and so on. I find that
with our daughter I have to constantly reassure her that I will
be right there or that I am close by for her to feel comfortable
enough to go on playing with her toys solo. Also, a new trick I
use is encouraging her to play with a doll or bear and offer the
doll or bear cheerios, milk (pretend) from her sippy cup etc.
You need to engage in the scenario at first, saying, ''does bear
want some milk? How about you put bear on your car and drive
him around?'' It has helped to empower our daughter and distract
her by making her feel in control and also I believe that it
helps to teach them empathy. I know this is long winded, but
the last nugget is just to not give in to every demand to be
picked up or to always be the center of attention. Choose which
times are going to be time focused on your son, and play with
him then -- and at the other times, say when you and your
husband want to hang out together and catch up, let your child
know that you're talking to daddy and that you'll talk to him
again in a few minutes. This is a good time to suggest he play
parent to his bear, doll, toy, etc. This has caused a few
meltdowns in our house, but I think that its an important lesson
that needs to be learned and as long as you do engage with him
regularly and give quality time, then when you need time to
yourself if should be respected. Hope this helps.
relating to your challenge!
There's a book I'm reading in spare moments called ''making the
terrible twos terrific''. since my daughter is just one, all the
advice is untried by me, but the age span it applies to is 18-30
mos. It has a section on how to encourage independent play.
Perhaps surprisingly, it involves fewer, not more toys. Also he
stresses a type of toy...those that are simple and require
imagination. There's a 'case study' of a three year old whose
parents packed up complex educational toys and left out simple
things like an appliance box play house and blocks and soon the
child was doing lots of independent play. This is an odd book.
The philosophy rings a little harsh, but the tips are fairly
gentle, if firm in style.
Our daughter also gets lots of one on one attention and still
cries when I leave the room if she's not with her father or her
main sitter. But I was astonished at how long and quietly she
played with our friend's six/seven year old daughter w/o me
present. Perhaps you could introduce an older child as a
mother's helper to give yourself a few brief breathers and then
increase the time?
this page was last updated: Feb 22, 2008
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are transitioning to a new website during
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2015 Berkeley Parents Network