Our 3 year old daughter doesn't want to play alone. Every hour of the day she wants someone to interact with her. It doesn't have to be games, she also likes to help in the kitchen and other activities.

She doesn't fear to be alone, e.g. she goes to the toilet alone, sleeps in her own room and we can leave her alone when she's playing with other kids, but when at home she wouldn't play anything alone. When we ask why she doesn't play with her toys alone the only answer is "I don't want to, I want to play with you.".

She's going to a kindergarten during work hours, but on other times there is no relative or neighbor nearby who could help. When the kindergarten closes for two weeks this becomes very exhaustive, because often only one of us parents can take vacation.

How can we get her to play alone?

P.S. I found these questions with promising titles, but they are about separation anxiety, whereas I need her to play alone, no matter if in the same room or not.

2 Answers 2


This is late for independent play to start. This is a learned activity.

This suggests that you start young.

Here are eight tips that have most helped us in encouraging our toddlers to play independently.

  1. Start Young.
  2. Toys.
  3. Stop Playing For Them.
  4. Take Their Play Seriously.
  5. Give Them Your Undivided Attention.
  6. Connect During Care Giving Tasks.
  7. Get in Touch With Your Child's Interests.
  8. Limit Screen Time.

I would add because your child is older that you could parallel play.

Parallel play is a form of play in which children play adjacent to each other, but do not try to influence one another's behavior. Children usually play alone during parallel play but are interested in what other children are doing. This usually occurs after the first birthday

Wikipedia on parallel play

I am suggesting that you do this with her (instead of her doing this with another child -- a level she has already accomplished at school) and withdraw over time in a non-obvious way.

Choose an activity that she enjoys, and will take her time doing and that lends itself to individual 'work'. (Painting, clay, Lego/Lincoln Logs, designing a city, dioramas...) You each have separate items and you sit near her and encourage her while doing your own thing. So (example) she builds a lego house and you build a lego hospital and you talk -- but not touch each other's 'work'.

Prepare something in advance that you can go and do on your own, but that can be turned over to her, if she won't stay on task. After a few minutes, you suggest you'll get both of you a drink of water or turn on some music or perhaps even get a snack or fetch more Lego. This should not be a reward, but something you do normally. She stays because if she gets up -- she can get the water while you keep playing. You go OR she goes. Make the interruptions longer and more frequent (over a period of hours or days -- you have to figure it out by doing it).

  • Praise anything she does independently. Be honest and fair -- do not praise her for stuff that is not praiseworthy.
  • Make sure she has plenty of opportunities to make choices and that you praise her for making them.
  • Ask her opinions on things and listen and praise her ideas.
  • When you tell her that you are busy and that she must entertain herself, have some suggestions of things she likes to do, and tell her to choose one/some.
  • If she doesn't select one, select one it for her. If she refuses to leave you to your task/self -- make a demand that she does a chore*.

*In time, she'll start noticing that making a poor choice leads to her doing something she does not like doing as much. In the beginning, you may have to help her do those chores -- but make those chores her least favourite. She doesn't gain anything by insisting on your time. You have no need to be mad, she will come around. If she complains about the chore, quietly explain that she could have been doing one of the other choices, but that she choose to let you choose. The benefit is that for a little while, you are going to have a very clean home!


It really sounds like your kid is a strong extrovert while you (and maybe your spouse) are introverts. The main sign is that she is recharged by being in company whereas you find it exhausting.

  • Figure out which activities you find the least exhausting but still fill her need for human connection, and do those things the most. (Art? Crafts? Building? Introverts tend to find these focused activities less tiring than activities like make believe or open ended conversation.) Encourage her to do the other activities with other people, e.g. at play school.

  • Also include her in any necessary activity that you can (working in the kitchen, folding laundry).

  • When you really just need alone time, use a timer to indicate to her when alone time starts and ends. This keeps her from interrupting prematurely, but also reassures her that you will return. Remember that at this age, the time needs to be very, very short.

  • You can make some suggestions to her for what she does while you take alone time, but ultimately let her pick...But high energy activities like singing/dancing OR any activities that she gets so into that she focuses more on what she's doing then on other people are good choices for most extroverts.

  • Group activities or even a sitter once a week. Or look for lower cost/maybe free activities like your local library. Even going to a park and letting her play with other (random) kids will let you recharge.

  • If you have remote relatives, could she video chat with them once a week?

  • If school has a week off, can one of you take off Monday-Tuesday and the other take Wednesday-Thursday-Friday? Or even MWF and TTh?

  • Read up on the differences between introverts and extroverts and start teaching her how to describe her feelings and needs and also recognize the needs of others. Being able to express the problem clearly (not just "I want to play with you") will help you and her come up with solutions.

https://geekdad.com/2011/04/tips-for-introverted-parents-raising-extraverted-kids/ https://parentingfromscratch.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/meeting-an-extroverted-childs-needs/

  • I like this part of your answer especially (+1) "use a timer to indicate to her when alone time starts and ends." Timers are little miracles and using them really is a positive way to help your child understand, prevents interruptions and teaches patience. This is the timer I used with students:
    – WRX
    Apr 18, 2017 at 12:46
  • "It really sounds like your kid is a strong extrovert while you (and maybe your spouse) are introverts." I feel like I'm giving too much information to the internet. :-o
    – Chris
    Apr 18, 2017 at 18:09
  • @Chris Don't worry too much... Since more than half of people are extroverts, but from personal experience users of internet question forums run to about 90% introverts, the odds of you being an introvert with an extroverted child were already pretty good. Apr 19, 2017 at 14:37

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