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My wife and I have a 2 year old boy. He's very attached to my wife / his mom. He's typically happy to play on his own, as long as we're nearby. But if we go into the kitchen (next room over) to cook, he breaks down into a constant dry. He'll then walk or crawl to mom, asking to go up. When we say no because we're busy, he cries more and continues leeching onto mom.

We're trying to encourage him to play independently when we cook or do other chores. We tried the "cry it out" technique tonight but we know it'll take more than one instance to break this behavior.

Is there a better approach than "cry it out" to break our son of this habit?

Note that we do have a learning tower where our son can watch us. But we want the option of saying no, particularly if he's not willing to stand.

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    How important is it to you that he stays in another room? Your post seems to imply that? Would him joining you in the kitchen (or wherever you need to be) be an option? – Stephie Feb 4 at 6:43
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    No problem with our son joining us, as long as he’s playing by himself. Point I was intending to make is that our son can see us in the next room and it’s only one room over, but that separation is too much – Craig Feb 4 at 14:12
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I think it's unrealistic to expect a 2 year old to be able to play by themselves for a long time. Some might, but not all.

We tried the "cry it out" technique tonight but we know it'll take more than one instance to break this behavior.

Is there a better approach than "cry it out" to break our son of this habit?

Wanting to be with his parents and see what's going on is not a bad habit that requires breaking! Let him see what you are doing. Once he has the option to see, he might get bored quickly and leave you to play on his own like you want.

There certainly are times when a kid needs to be told to leave an adult alone so they can do something, but dinner prep time probably shouldn't be one.

  • "There certainly are times when a kid needs to be told to leave an adult alone so they can do something, but dinner prep time probably shouldn't be one." - Er, if you have an open grill (broiler for US readers) at child height, dinner prep time definitely is a time that a kid can't be in the kitchen. – AndyT Feb 11 at 12:09
  • @AndyT There is a big difference between "you need to stay safely out of range of this grill. Here's a chair you can climb on so you can see what I'm doing (with the chair safely out of range)" and "you need to stay inside while I'm using the open grill". I do agree that they ARE NEVER TO GET WITHING TOUCHING RANGE of burning things though :) – Imus Feb 12 at 13:32
  • Depends on the kid. I had my kid hold her hand close to a range burner that was on, and hold her hand close to a boiling pot of water, in a calm controlled way, so she could see how hot they were. I think that's better than merely telling a kid to stay away. I would of course prevent any kind of playing around hot things, but I think saying that a calm kid can't stand close and watch is too overprotective. – swbarnes2 Feb 12 at 16:57
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Your son wants interaction because you're the two people in the world that he cares most about. It is often boring playing on his own, and he isn't getting as much positive feedback by himself — he doesn't know if the thing he's done is worthwhile.

There is no silver bullet to address anything with children because every child is different, and every child differs moment to moment. Something that works today may not work tomorrow.

I have personally had the most success with my children by playing with them for a while and giving them guidance that lets them decide on an immediate goal. Build a small building with blocks, then suggest they could improve on it. Sort ponies by size and then suggest they could be sorted by colour. Something that shows you doing a thing, and then a prompt that allows them to follow directions. Once you've given the direction, tell your child that you're going to go do something else: "I'm going to go start dinner now; you see if you can figure this out while I'm over there."

Your child will be engaged for at least as long as it takes you to get to the kitchen, and then one of two things is likely to happen.

  1. Your child gives up and comes to find you.
    • In this case, you may have given a challenge that seems too daunting. Ask for a smaller victory: "Okay, start by finding me a red block!" Off they'll run, then come back with a red (or blue, oops) block. Praise them, and suggest a next step. Something that doesn't require your hands and something that they can do.
  2. Your child succeeds at the task after some time and comes to ask for your approval on their success.
    • If you're right in the middle of draining a pot of boiling spaghetti, ask for a bit of patience. Go see their success as soon as you possibly can, praise it, suggest a change or another task.

There are times when it'll feel like they're interrupting, but just remember that patience and manners are not inherent characteristics of people: they must be learned. Introduce the concept of patience in very small doses (like literally one second to begin with), then slowly increase the amount of time they wait as they grow. For the first little while, you will have to allow yourself to be interrupted immediately so that your child has a positive experience, but trust that it will all be working towards the goal you desire.

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Toddlers are very social. We also had difficulties cooking while the children wanted to be with us. Having lots of toys and books helped somewhat. Another big help was a toy kitchen with a toy stove, sink and countertop. This, plus a set of toy plastic dishes and metal cookware and a set of plastic fruits and veggies occupied our children while we cooked. While they were not too heavy, I also used a child carrier to carry my child on the back while I cooked. This was fascinating for the kid, but hard on my back, so I had to stop this eventually. That said, we never found a method that worked 100 percent of the time. Good luck!

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    +1 for the toy kitchen. – aparente001 Feb 5 at 3:39
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Anecdotal: we newer got our child to play independently when we are around but grandma did. She would give him a wooden train set to play with. Then she would play with him for a while and show him how to and then tell him she would go and cook. The cooking happened around the corner in the same room.

I think it was a combination of 1) the interesting toy he did not have at home 2) non-parent 3) persistence on grandma's part.

The only other times he played alone at that age are when he played with stuff he really, really enjoyed. That is playing with sand and playing on an old tractor (obviously stationary, without engine, and with an adult making sure he would not fall off.)

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What I'm doing is I keep doing whatever I want, but put the boy near me. And then I speak and explain in loud what I'm doing.

"Opening eggs, mixing, boiling..." Then, he is with me. Learn to speak, to listen, I'm more focused on what I'm doing, and on him.

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