Two year old Independence

Our daughter is 25 months old. We have her enrolled in a phenomenal preschool that creates numerous opportunities for her to play, be social, go on hikes, be outside, and so on. We also make sure to mix in plenty of play time on busy weekends. In other words it feels to us like she gets plenty of interactive play time. Nevertheless, from the moment she gets home it's "go play? Go play?" And she finds our hand and drags us to her play room. Same thing in the mornings -- even though she likes school and we talk to her about it, she would still rather play at home, interactively with us. We both work and we need just a few minutes to ourselves when we get home sometimes. But any effort to encourage her to play by herself for even a moment results in a meltdown.

What tools have other busy parents found to encourage their kids to play independently on occasion? Or is it too soon developmentally? Should we just give up and always have one person on kid duty?

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RE: Two year old Independence ()

I could have written this post - same preschool experience, same home experience as you describe, and my daughter wanted our attention to play with her what felt like 100% of the time. I definitely became a bit burnt out and felt guilty about it but it is important to find a little time to yourself to maintain your sanity or just get stuff done! It was the worst between ages 2 and 3 but really since she was a baby she was like that. Now that I have a second child who is so different I realize just how much this is an ingrained part of her personality. I do also think it's developmental. Right around the age of 3 my daughter got much more into imaginative play so she began to become much more independent as a result. 

One thing that worked sometimes was creating specific times for different types of play and communicating it clearly and often. I even used timers. For example, I'd say "Ok now it's mommy-kid play time for 20 minutes and after that it's free play time where you get to do whatever you want by yourself while mommy does her own thing". Then I'd remind her a few minutes before time was up. I started small. "Free play time" was sometimes only a few minutes and then it ended before she melted down. I also used TV as a break and don't feel guilty about that one bit. "TV time" was a specific type of play time and she knew for that 20-30 minute show that I was going to be busy getting stuff done. I set the schedule and lengths of times and she got used to the routine and what each type of play time meant. I also allowed the occasional melt down - stayed by her side, repeated often that I know she was sad because she wanted to play with mommy, but that mommy was busy, and would bang out a quick email or do some dishes or something while she laid nearby. 

If you use Instagram, I love the "BusyToddler" page for lots of good and easy ideas for independent play. My kid never liked traditional toys but some of the easy activities she suggested were great. I think she was getting overwhelmed by all the toys so I created a separate "free play" area with one or two toys or an activity that was set up. I tried to have it ready for her when we got home from preschool too and we'd play together first and then do "free play time".

Hang in there, don't feel guilty for getting in some time alone in whatever way works for you, and it will likely get better as she gets a bit older. 

RE: Two year old Independence ()

Hi there, my son is the same age as your daughter and I can confirm that it's all play, all the time. If two of us are home, we typically do have one parent on kid duty, though he often wants to interact with both of us. If just one parent is home, we try and include him in what we're doing -- for example, if I need to prep dinner, I'll set him up on a stepstool at the sink with unbreakable bowls etc. and he'll "do dishes" or "cook soup" while I work. I try and talk to him constantly and respond to what he's saying and asking, just as I would if an adult were in the room hanging out. It's hard sometimes and can be very stop-and-go -- these are not the nights to attempt 7-course meals -- and this approach is not without tears (sometimes he just barnacles himself around my legs). But honestly I really love his energy and I know it's not going to be like this forever.

Two more things that work: 1) Daniel Tiger and 2) bedtime. No matter how challenging it is for those hours after we get home, kiddo goes to bed at 7:30 and the rest of the night is ours.

RE: Two year old Independence ()

One of my kids craves constant interaction too. It doesn't work for me to encourage her to do things alone, but it sometimes works to say, "I'm doing XYZ, and I would love it if you joined me. I can play with you in 10/15 minutes." It lets her know that I hear her, but also (hopefully) teaches her that I have my own priorities. 

RE: Two year old Independence ()

A wonderful preschool environment can hardly make up for the connection your child is seeking with YOU, her parents, the most important people in the world to her!  2 year olds rarely crave the kind of down time you are hoping for, unless you want to start getting her hooked on videos.  Most young children are homebodies and want love and attention from and interaction with their parents.  I'm sure if you guys are creative, you can come up with some hands-on activities she can do independently for a very limited amount of time (blocks?  Play-Doh?  coloring?  make-believe with Duplos or other dolls/characters?  train set?  trucks/cars?) to give you a little break, but at this stage of the game, I wouldn't expect too much.  It is far better for her now and for her development as a human to have one parent on "kid duty".  You'll have to take it in turns or find another care-giver if both parents want adult-time-without-child.  At some point in the future -perhaps as early as age 3 but maybe not until she's 6 or 7, she'll be able to do solitary activities at home without your full involvement.  Patience and tag-teaming!

RE: Two year old Independence ()

It may just be too soon developmentally to expect this of your daughter. My first child was like this and only started playing independently at age four, and even then she strongly preferred interactive play. She’s an extrovert, so she naturally wants a lot of social time. My second child has been much more independent but still at age 2 needs a lot of interactive play. I think you’ll probably need to largely plan on having one parent available to play with your child. When we really need a break or it’s simply not possible to pay direct attention (ie, one parent is out of the house and the other is trying to cook dinner) we use television. There’s so much hysteria about screen time these days but in my opinion 20 minutes of PBS cartoons ocassionally while I make dinner is not going to alter the course of my kid’s life. Good luck!

RE: Two year old Independence ()

Hard to say without personally knowing your daughter, but my guess that's her personality.  I have two kids, and my son has always been like your girl and needed someone to play with him all the time, preferably his family member. As for my daughter, she's been happy playing on her one ever since she learned to walk.  I don't have any suggestions, but lots of sympathy.   My son is a teen now, and he has learned to keep himself busy, eventually, although he's still more needy than my now 6 year old girl.  

RE: Two year old Independence ()

Maybe try trading with another family in the neighborhood with a child of similar age. Or hire an older kid in the neighborhood to be a mother's helper. 

RE: Two year old Independence ()

Way too early for independence. Your baby girl just wants to be with you. I know you're tired, (all us parents are tired!) but she's been away from you all day, and she only gets a few hours of your time each day during the week, time that she desperately wants (and needs) from you.

Before you know it she will be a cranky teenager and NOT want to be around you at all. Promise.

RE: Two year old Independence ()

My son was like this too. As an introvert, I found it exhausting.  He NEVER wanted to play or do anything at all by himself. I got through it with a mix of activities, babysitters, and sometimes just making him do what I wanted to do - we could do whatever it was together, but it was not going to be yet another hour of Legos!  I did try very hard to find books and games that interested us both, which got easier as he got older.  Another thing that worked was dancing to music (exercise for me, fun for him).  Upside, he's off at college, he still wants to talk to me, hang out with, do things with me (except he is now horrified if I dance).  And thankfully, our interests are a lot more aligned these days: cooking, shopping, movies.