Do I Have To Entertain My Baby All The Time? It Depends…

By  Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH | Updated - 27 April 2021

Have you ever thought to yourself "Do I have to entertain my baby all the time? I can't seem to get anything done!"

If so, then you're in the right place! 

By breaking down exactly when to entertain your baby and when it's OK to leave your baby alone, I will be giving you the knowledge to raise a happy baby who's content to play alone which gives you precious (anxiety-free) time to yourself to be a better parent!

So let's dive right in!

Do I have to entertain my baby all the time_

Do I Have To Entertain My Baby All The Time?

The simple answer to "do I have to entertain my baby all the time?" is... NO!

While I am a great advocate of babies learning through play and that they learn so much from their interaction with their parents, it is equally important to teach your little one to play alone.

In truth, your baby will learn a lot from playing alone!

The trick is to strike a balance between playing with your little one and encouraging independent play by teaching them to be comfortable by themselves.

Offering your baby time to play alone and be away from you safely, will go a long way in making them independent as they grow and spend some time away from you. 

Solo play will also help to develop their problem solving skills, develop their imagination, improve concentration and boost their confidence.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “Play facilitates the progression from dependence to independence and from parental regulation to self-regulation.”

So it goes without saying that play is hugely important and offering your baby a range of age appropriate play activities is essential to their overall development whether that be while they are playing socially or on their own.

How long can a baby play alone for?

A rough guideline of how long your little one can be left alone to play is: 

  • 6 month old - 5 minutes 
  • 12 month old - 15 minutes 
  • 18 month old - 15-20 minutes 
  • 2 years old - 30 minutes 

I also believe that parents can offer their babies opportunities to play independently from very early on. 

Infancy is a time of great dependence. Nevertheless babies should be allowed to do things for themselves from the very beginning.

Early Independent Play

Practice makes perfect, so allowing your baby to get used to spending short periods of time alone in their crib or moses basket at a time when they are relaxed with a full tummy and open to playing alone. 

It is perfectly natural that you may feel you need to be with your new baby all the time. However, life will get in the way sometimes and you will need to put your baby down to do things at some point!

If your baby is used to being alone, then you are less likely to have those anxious situations where you have to put them down in their crib for a few minutes and they cry with despair at your leaving.

So, How Do You Start?

Well, before your baby is old enough to hold a rattle or reach out at a hanging toy from a toy gym, you will be able to leave your baby to watch a mobile over their crib, or the leaves on a low lying branch while lying in their pram outside for brief periods of time. This is the beginning of learning to self settle too. Check out this video to learn more -> 

Timing Is Important

Babies are very fussy. They do not like abrupt changes so going from being held to being alone calls for good timing from you! 

As I briefly mentioned before, make sure your little one has a full tummy and has been winded. Change their nappy and keep talking to them as you place them in their crib or on a blanket.

Don’t walk away immediately. 

Stay and talk for awhile, turn on a mobile if it is musical or encourage them to look at it.

Once they seem settled, walk away saying you will be back soon. If they cry, then return, talk to them and try again. 

Don’t leave your baby for longer than is age appropriate.

Gradually, your baby will get used to these short periods of solo play and they will trust you to return.

Top Tip

Don't dash to pick up your baby as soon as they wake. Allowing your baby to play alone for a while before you go to them is an ideal time for your baby to benefit from and practice independent play.

Benefits of Independent or Solo Play

So when I am asked "do I have to entertain my baby all the time?" and I say NO... I remind parents that there are many important benefits of solo play. So, here are the most important ones!

  • It allows your baby to explore the world at their own pace
  • Solo play teaches your little one how to focus
  • They can learn from their mistakes
  • It can help with separation anxiety
  • Independent play teaches a sense of self
  • It also help to improve imagination and creativity

4 Types of independent play for babies

Independent play typically comes with an idea that your baby should be doing a coordinated activity by themselves... But the truth is...

There is a whole variety of activities that contribute to independent play.

1. Busy doing nothing

Contrary to popular belief, babies don’t need to be ‘doing something’ in order to be learning from independent play!

Remember that the world is all new to them. They are seeing everything for the very first time and discovering what their bodies can do.

So, why they may look like they are just staring into space their brains are still working hard!

When they see their hand for the first time they are not even aware that it belongs to them and they will find it fascinating. When they do realise that they have control over their hands then they spend hours discovering what their hands can actually do.

It is so important that we must allow our children to just be! 

Creativity is born out of letting the mind wander and these early days will allow your baby to explore the world at their own pace.

2. Utilise Play pens

While it is not good to leave your little one for extended periods of time in a play pen... there are occasions when they are ideal for keeping your little one safe for short amounts of time.

If you are needing to do something where it is not appropriate or safe for your baby to be with you, then letting them have the opportunity to play in a playpen alone will help you and will lead to all sorts of beneficial developmental progress. 

You can start by watching your baby play and talk about what they are doing. Don’t interfere unless absolutely necessary.

Once your baby has got used to spending time in the playpen with you close by, you can start to leave the room for short periods.

Remember, keep popping back to offer encouragement and check that they are doing OK! Continue to do this until they are used to being left to play alone and play independently.

3. Child directed play

When you sit on the sidelines and let your baby lead the play then you are allowing them to experience child directed play.

This is a form of play that requires you to be present but to not take the lead. You can offer encouragement and talk about what they are doing.

You can praise when they succeed in doing something and answer their questions but remember, you are not leading the play!

On these occasions, it is OK for you to be engaged in something else such as folding the laundry, reading a book, working on your computer as long as you are in the vicinity and paying attention when necessary.

Some ideas of child directed play include:

  • Drawing and painting
  • Playing musical instruments
  • Playing with playdough
  • Reading a book
  • Having a teddy bear tea party

4. Outdoor independent play

When your baby is small, put them outside in their pram or on a blanket and let them look up at the sky and the trees. Of course, monitor the weather and keep checking in with your baby to ensure they're happy and content.

As they become more mobile you can move the playpen outside too. Watching nature will be a great learning experience for them. 

Once your baby can walk, allow your baby to try new physical tasks such as climbing and jumping or kicking a ball without too much interference. It is OK for them to struggle for a bit.

Follow their lead and let them explore with you making sure they are safe on the sidelines.

Do I have to entertain my baby all the time Featured Image

FAQs About Having To Entertain Baby All The Time

Here are a few frequently asked questions that often come up when parents ask me "Do I need to entertain my baby all the time?"

What happens if you don't interact with your baby?

Interaction with you is vitally important to your baby’s overall development.

Babies need to feel loved and safe in order to thrive. Talking to your baby, playing with them and showing them the world are needed for your baby to feel cherished.

This is also how you and your baby will form a very special bond.

Your baby will NOT develop to their full potential if you do not interact with them

So, the bulk of your time should be spent interacting with your baby but balanced with short periods of time where you encourage them to play and explore independently.

How Do I Entertain A Clingy Child?

At around 8 months of age, your baby will become acutely aware that they are separate from you and may develop separation anxiety.

This is perfectly normal but may derail your attempts to get them to play alone.

A good way to approach solo play with a child that is clingy is to make the most of opportunities that can be turned into moments of independent play.

For example, if they crawl off to look at a toy across the room just watch and observe what they do. Don’t interrupt or join in.

As long as they are safe, allow them to independently play!

Again, if they are safe you could leave the room for a minute. Don’t sneak out, tell them you are going and will be back in a minute.

If they fuss, then offer verbal reassurance from the other room rather than dashing back.

These are tiny steps on the way to solo play but what you are trying to do is establish trust.

Your little one needs to know that you will not leave without telling them and that you will return when you say you will.

How do I entertain my baby all day?

As I mentioned above, there are numerous ways for you to entertain your baby.

Usually it's a mixture of playing with toys or looking at books together and showing them the world around them and introducing them to other people.

Remember that your baby will love to hear the sound of your voice and watch what you are doing. So, point out things to them and show them interesting objects, sing songs, show them books, go for walks and generally introduce them to the world!

If you are struggling to interact with your newborn baby read my post on How To Play With A Newborn to get you started.

REMEMBER

You don’t need to play with your little one every minute or every day. 

Is it OK to leave My baby to play alone?

It is definitely OK to leave your baby to play alone BUT only for an age appropriate length of time and only when they feel safe and are happy to do so. Remember what I said about playpens?

The point of teaching your baby to be alone in the early stages is to encourage and develop solo play as they grow.

Top Tip

Timing is crucial.

An overtired, hungry or wet diapered baby will not want to be left to play alone. 

However, the bulk of time in your baby's life when they are awake should be spent with you. 

Learn how much age appropriate time your baby can spend alone and offer at least one time a day when they can practice solo play.

Balance is the key and a lot will depend on the personality of both you and your baby! 

As with adults, some babies are better at being alone than others but always remember that helping your little one to play independently is just as important as playing with them.

And there you have it! I hope you enjoyed this post all about "Do I Have To Entertain My Baby All The Time" and know other parents who would enjoy this content, be sure to give it a share! 

If you have any further questions about entertaining your baby (or not!) or you have any blog recommendations that you'd like me to write about... Then be sure to drop me an email at [email protected] I love hearing from you!

Once again, thank you for your continued support and happy parenting!

Teething to Tantrums Author

Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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