Top Tips For Encouraging More Independent Play/ Activities For Children

However much you love spending time with your children, there times we all need a few minutes to ourselves – whether it’s taking a shower, serving dinner or just decompressing after a tricky day to allow us to be fully present. It’s also worth mentioning that learning to play independently for some of the day, is a great skill for young children to learn. Here’s some ways you can do exactly that.

Use A Schedule 

Carefully set out what is expected at a particular time. For younger children or those new to this approach a now and next board may be more effective than a schedule lasting a full day, this can then be lengthened to include one new activity as each stage is mastered. Some children might find it helpful to see a parent’s schedule alongside their own. So for instance a child’s schedule may show ‘Playing with Lego’ then ‘Choose time with mum’, mum’s Schedule may show ‘Preparing dinner’ then ‘Choose time with x’. For older children, Independent activities might include things like homework, listing to music in your room, playing on a video game or watching a favourite TV show.

Keep Independent Activities As Preferred Activities Where Possible

If you are asking a child to do something independently, giving them something to do that they really want to do is much more likely to be more successful than giving them something they find hard or something they are unsure of. The more comfortable they become with doing fun things independently, the easier it will be to add trickier tasks, such as those involving personal hygiene or homework at a later stage.

Use A Timer

A visual timer can be a great way to show children how long you will be before then can have your full attention. Many children with Autism really struggle with the concept of time so visually seeing it counting down to the thing they are waiting for can be really helpful. There are some fantastic ones available to buy, and also some great free online ones that are well worth taking a look at.

Question Question Cards

Children are curious, and often have lots of questions. If they think of one, it can be hard to wait to have it answered as they worry that if they don’t ask it then they will forget what they wanted to ask. Encouraging children to write their questions down on post it notes, or simply to draw a big question mark to remind them to ask a question during your time together can really help. Initially you are likely to have to scaffold this a little, so for instance if your child comes and asks you a question whilst you are talking to someone else, or busy with chores, you can answer with ‘That’s a great question, I would love some time to think about it so I can give you the best answer, can you draw a question mark so you can remember to ask me again when I have finished doing x please.’ This way you are reassuring them of your interest, but still able to finish the task at hand.

Challenge Them

A good challenge is really hard to resist! So why not challenge them to surprise you by building the tallest tower, making a card or lining up as many pieces of pasta in as straight a line as possible in a given time. Keep a record of their results, so that next time you set the challenge they can try to beat your own score. The only rule? It needs to be a surprise, no one is allowed to see until it is totally complete. 

Ask For Their Help

Leave an unfinished task that you ‘can’t do’, ask them if they could be a huge help to you by finishing the task – anything from building a Lego house, to pairing socks- whilst you do another job. When you have both finished, enjoy the reward of cookies and a chat.

Don’t Forget Rewards

Doing things independently is hard, especially if you like company so incentives to do so can really help. If you have a reward system, think about having more points attached to Independent tasks than collaborative ones. So for instance, homework done independently could be worth 10 points, and homework done with dad could be worth 5. Both score points, but the first reflects the difficulty of being organised and motivated to do a task independently.

All of this said, remember it won’t happen overnight. But try making gradual small changes, or ask your child what would make the most difference to them and in the long term you will see results.


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