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

Author Image By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH •  Updated: 05/02/23 •  Development / Games & Toys

Have you ever thought to yourself “Do I have to entertain my baby all the time they’re awake?” 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.

Do I Have To Entertain My Baby All The Time?

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:

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.

Looking to get your little one to sleep quickly and effortlessly? Check out my Bedtime and Nap Cheat Sheet and master the art of making daytime naps and bedtimes as seamless as possible.

4 Types Of Independent Play Activities For Babies

Independent play typically comes with the 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, a newborn baby doesn’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, whilst 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. Lying under a play gym is a wonderful way to start.

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2. Utilise Play Pens

While it is not good to leave your little one for extended periods of time in a playpen… 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 become 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.

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For more information about play pens and how to use them responsibly, check out this post.

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.

You can offer encouragement and talk about what they are doing. You can praise them when they succeed and help when needed… But remember, you are not leading the activity.

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

Some ideas of child-directed play include:

4. Outdoor Independent Play

When your baby is small, having plenty of time in the fresh air is wonderful. You can 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 as 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, 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.

How Long Can A Baby Play Alone For?

All children will need your company every now and then, but here’s a rough guideline of how long your little one can be left to play independently:

When Can I Start Leaving Baby Alone?

Before your baby is old enough to hold a rattle or reach out at a hanging toy from a play gym, you can 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.

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Practice makes perfect when teaching baby to be content by themselves, so allow your baby to get used to spending short periods of time alone in their crib or Moses basket 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.

These are all the beginnings of learning to self-settle. Check out this video to learn more:

Frequently Asked Questions About Do I Have 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 I Don’t Interact With My Baby?

If you do not interact with your baby at all, they will not develop to their full potential and this distance can cause emotional issues in the future.

Babies need to feel loved and safe in order to thrive. So 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.

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 Ensure Baby Is OK Being Left Alone?

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 a while, turn on the mobile and encourage them to look at it.

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

Gradually, your baby will get used to these short periods of solo play and they will trust you to return. But remember to never leave them for more than is age-appropriate.

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 clingy child 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 instead of 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 throughout the day.

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.

Is It OK To Leave My Baby To Play Alone?

Yes, 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. 

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

The point of teaching your baby to be alone in the early stages is to encourage and develop solo play as they grow. However, the bulk of time in your baby’s life when they are awake should be spent with you.

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Author Image Bio
Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and a highly qualified childcare expert with over 40 years of experience as a Norland Nanny. She holds a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development & Learning (0-6 Years) and the prestigious Norland Diploma. Paula has worked as a night nanny, run a successful daycare center in London, and helped raise countless children using her tried and tested developmental and guidance methods.

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