For Moms

How to Un-Cling Your Toddler So They Play Independently

Does your toddler refuse to play alone? Or does your child expect you to always be near them while they play?

My daughter was very clingy until recently when I said enough is enough. I need to be able to get things done while she plays and I need her to play in another room by herself.

Sometimes toddlers just want you to be near them because they’re afraid of being alone. My daughter always said she didn’t want to go play in her room without me because she was scared.

Toddlers are also very self-centered.

They only think about their own needs.

They don’t think, “Mommy needs to cook dinner so she can’t sit on the floor and play cars with me.” They only know that they love you, and they want you to be with them.

So how do you get your toddler to un-cling from you?

Explain That You Need Time to Yourself

It’s important to explain to your toddler that you just need time to get things done by yourself. They might jump to conclusions that you’re abandoning them.

Even if you don’t have things you need to do like housework, you still need some alone time during the day so you can survive. Especially if you’re a stay-at-home mom.

When your toddler stops taking naps, you lose that little bit of downtime that you need to recover. So having independent play time will allow you both to recharge a bit. Introverts need this recharge time.

You can call it Alone Time, Independent Time, or Quiet Time.

We call it quiet time in our house. She doesn’t actually have to be quiet, but she gets the concept that she needs to play by herself for a bit.

Toddlerhood is when you start to set boundaries for yourself. You can’t be a martyr and give all of your time to your child. You need your own time.

Start With Short Periods of Time

If your toddler is especially clingy, start with a short amount of time like 5 or 10 minutes playing in another room. Keep them within earshot.

Progress each day to where you can get at least 30 minutes or even an hour of independent play time.

You can keep checking in on your toddler to make sure they haven’t gotten into any trouble. If I don’t hear my daughter, I’ll call out to her to see what she’s up to.

Have Specific Toys or Activities Laid Out

Does your toddler seem bored with their toys? Or they have a big box of toys but never want to play with any of them?

Try laying out specific toys or activities to do.

We rotate boxes of toys so one day she’ll have all of her Daniel Tiger toys, and then the next day she’ll have her Peppa Pig toys. It keeps her from getting bored with the same toys sitting out every day.

We also have some STEM toys that are specifically for quiet time. She only gets to play with them while she’s having her time to herself. It gives her more of an incentive to un-cling from me.

You can also set out activities such as a coloring station or a sensory bin. Activities take a little longer to set up than just a box of toys, but they have more novelty to them.

I like to try to set out a simple activity that I know she won’t ask for help with and a small set of toys. That way she can choose to either color her Moana coloring book or play with her Moana toys.

Of course, you don’t need to do themed toys or activities. You can just group any toys or activities together. A theme is just fun!

Play Music

Toddlers are just getting used to being alone in a room without a parent.

It can be scary and quiet. Or even loud. The air conditioning in our house is very loud when it turns on. It scares her. That’s one of the main reasons she never wanted to play in her playroom without me.

I realized that she needed some kind of background noise while she played. I didn’t want to turn on the TV. She’d just sit and watch it!

So I asked Alexa to play her music on our Amazon Echo.

Now she’s not afraid to be in her playroom by herself.

Check your child’s surroundings to see if there’s something that sounds scary. Or if it’s quiet… too quiet. Maybe all your child needs to happily play alone is music.

Set a Timer

Toddlers like structure. They like to know when things are going to happen and for how long.

Set a timer for independent play. Especially if you have a class 4 clinger.

The rigidity of “here is the set time that you need to play alone” is stronger than “please play by yourself for a while.”

You’ll hopefully be interrupted less frequently because they’re more likely to take instructions from Alexa than Mommy. (Harsh but true in my case.)

Join Your Toddler After They Have Independent Play

Once the timer goes off, or when you’re finished with your me-time, you can join your toddler to play or invite them to play something else.

It’s a nice way of rewarding them for being independent and allowing you to have your own time.

And you can use it as a way of placating them if they are reluctant to play alone. “Mommy will play with you in 20 minutes, but first you need to play by yourself here.”

It’s the equivalent of Daniel Tiger’s “Grown Ups Come Back” song. You’re reminding them that you will come back even though you’re just in the next room or even just on the other side of the room.

Toddler Independence is Bittersweet

I know right now you probably can’t wait to have your toddler stop hanging on you all day. It’s EXHAUSTING. It’s emotionally draining. And it’s almost impossible to do anything for yourself.

Getting time to yourself to sit an enjoy a cup of coffee seems like a dream vacation.

But your clingy child will slowly start to be more independent and want to go play by themselves. And then you’ll start to miss their sweet little face plopped firmly on your shoulder.

Right now, it’s time to un-cling. Set your boundaries, set a timer, and send your little one off to play.

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My toddler seem bored sometimes, although he has so many toys but doesn’t like to play alone.Thanks for sharing your idea of separating toys .Reply to Sandra
Thank you for a great read! I love this. I’ve got a clinger at the moment as well. I’m going to try the timer idea immediately! I also really like the idea about the toys going into different bins for different days to keep things fresh. That’s genius!Reply to Sarah