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My baby is 6 month old (8.4 kg). He has a fancy play gym with plenty of lots of toys. We also have plenty of books to read to him. We make him play with our dog (poor doggy!). He also loves playing with leaves outside while we hold him in our arms.

Baby playing in the early morning

In the morning, in the first hour of awake time, just before his first nap, he is generally quite able to play on his own. He can turn on his side to catch toys and play with them. When I try to interact with him, he mainly shows interest in his toys.

He is not very good at turning from his tummy to his back yet (he is usually in "airplane mode" when on his tummy) and he sometimes complained to be turned back on his back. During tummy time, he is sometimes playing with whatever toy we put in between his arms (or some other toy that is nearby at the moment he flips over on his tummy). He sometimes looks at himself in a small mirror that is by the side of his play gym or just looks around a little bit. Often, he goes airplane mode and starts fussing though.

Baby playing during the rest of the day

During the rest of the day, however, things are very different. He refuses to play on his own. He does not really try to reach for toys, he accepts when we put one in his hands but starts fussing just 5-10 seconds later. During the whole day, we either directly play with him, often read him stories, walk him outside to allow him to grab leaves and things. If we play in a given position (say, sitting together in our bed), then he is good to play for about 15 minutes and then he needs to change activity. He refuses to be lying down and he does not enjoy to be in the carrier if he cannot reach for things to play with.

I would tend to think that his fussing behaviour is unrelated to the developmental of object permanence as he complains just as much if we are present but don't actively do things with him.

Parent-specific behaviour

In the morning, he typically is with me and during the day, he is with my wife (hence she gets most of the fussing). When I am present during the day (I stay at home about 4 days a week), he fusses just as much as when he is only with my wife. I am unsure as to whether our behaviour affects our son's envy to play on his own and whether we can do anything to make our son more at ease with playing on his own.

Question

Can we encourage our son to play on his own? How can we do that?

  • What does your son do during "tummy time"? Is there something for him to look at/reach for/etc.? I'm asking because during tummy time, the baby is not usually facing the parent, so is more dependent on entertaining themself. – anongoodnurse Jul 31 at 3:52
  • During tummy time, he is sometimes playing with what a toy that we put in between his arms (or some other toy that is nearby at the moment he flips over on his tummy). He sometimes looks at himself in a small mirror that is by the side of his play gym or jsut look around a little bit. Often, he goes airplane mode and starts fussing though. – Remi.b Jul 31 at 4:16
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With some apology that this answer may not be very practically helpful, in my experience your child's ability to play alone is already normal, or even above average. There are lots of fun things for babies to learn and discover by playing alone or with toys, and this is healthy and productive, but at six months many babies crave interactive and communicative play with their caregivers, and many are not happy or content for long periods of tummy time. This is a huge time for learning to communicate, even if the first actual words are not likely to show up for several months, and many babies at this age are just so eager to get in as much face to face time as they can!

The 15-minute attention span for one activity or position is also normal in my experience, although I can't find any specific citation for the attention span of a 6 month old. Some articles give 4-10 minutes as normal for a 2 year old, and on average it increases throughout childhood, so it seems to me not surprising that at 6 months a baby is ready for something new several times an hour.

As for fostering independent play, here are some ideas, some that will work at 6 months, and some more geared to an older baby:

  • Play hiding and peek-a-boo games to reinforce the idea that mom/dad always comes back, and NOT seeing you can sometimes be fun
  • Start with very short independent playtimes and gradually lengthen them
  • Save some extra-desirable toys for only play-alone time. Rotate these to keep them fresh and intriguing.
  • Check in often when the child is playing alone, and offer praise and/or encouragement
  • When it is time to play together, make sure you give your baby focused, undivided and engaged attention. If he feels connected he might be more willing and able to be alone for a bit other times.

Some resources on this topic:

https://www.parents.com/baby/development/intellectual/the-value-of-solo-play/

https://www.whattoexpect.com/playroom/playtime-tips/playing-solo.aspx

https://www.livescience.com/54594-tips-to-improve-infants-attention-span.html

I will make one more note based purely on personal experience-- I found that when my son was that age, fussy behavior and needing constant new activities and changes of scenery often seemed to come right before he learned a new skill. If your little one is just 'almost' rolling, or seems almost ready to sit alone, that might be just around the corner, and may be accompanied by a reduction in frustration (and therefore crankiness). Suddenly unhappy when laying down also seems to point to this as at least a partial cause-- he wants to be in control of his body position, and he ALMOST can, but not quite, and that seems to be rather infuriating for some babies!

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