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How can I get my child to play independently?
Q: My 3-year-old is always under my feet. When I’m in the bathroom he has to stay at the door until I get out. I can’t go to the store without him crying his head off. Also, I can't get him to stay in his room alone and play with his toys. How do I get him to stay out from under my feet?
Jessica Osceola
A: As they get older, children need to be trained to play alone. Years ago, mothers had no problem tolerating a few temper tantrums as they placed their child behind a safety gate while they did adult stuff. Child psychologists today who have a permissive philosophy have scared young mothers into believing they must always be with their child and never frustrate that child.

This is nonsense. Children need to learn to be more independent and to entertain themselves. A 3-year-old is capable of both. Here’s how you can encourage your son’s independence:

1) Place a safety gate in a part of your home that restricts your son from wandering all over the house. Place the gate so that you can observe him and monitor his behavior.

2) Set up some things for him to play with inside the restricted area.

3) When you feel you need some adult time, walk into the play area with your son and get him started playing. In a few minutes walk outside the gate and say, “Mommy is busy and has to do some things.”

4) Your son will most likely start to protest and cry. He may even start throwing toys over the side of the gate. Just stay calm and repeat to him that you are busy and he should play. You can even toss some of the toys back into his play area.

5) If you repeat this experience a couple of times a day, your son will gradually learn how to spend time alone and how to entertain himself.

6) At the beginning it’s OK to jumpstart the experience by putting a children’s video on the television. They can be fun and educational. You just don’t want to overuse videos and have your child watching TV hour after hour.

7) Eventually, you will be able to have your son play by himself for about an hour at a time.

Growing up means becoming more independent. And growing up means learning how to entertain yourself. So, when your son protests that you are not with him and you start to feel guilty, just say to yourself that you are helping him learn an important lesson. Good luck!