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How can we get our daughter to play by herself?
Q: Our daughter has a problem with playing by herself. She always needs someone to play with her and if you don’t, she will scream and cry. How can I get her to play by herself at least once in a while?
Desirae Bethlehem
A: You don’t mention your daughter’s age, and age can make a big difference in this kind of situation. But let’s assume that she is in the 2- to 4-year age range. I would approach your goal of getting her to play by herself once in a while with the help of two T’s: Toys and Time. She undoubtedly has some toys that are fragile or easily damaged. Little china dishes, a very special doll, or a tape/CD player (some of your own not-too-valuable jewelry would also be an excellent choice). Let her play with one of them in your vicinity and say something like, “Your dishes are very special; they were mine when I was a little girl. I wouldn’t want you to use them when your friends are here, as they might get broken. You can stay right here and play with them for a while.” That is one approach that usually helps. The second is to make little time bargains with her, at first very brief but gradually getting longer: “mummy needs to talk to Grandma on the phone just now. You play by yourself for a little while, and then I’ll read you a story.” Start by requesting just 10 or 15 minutes and gradually lengthen the expected time for self-directed play.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education