3 Year Old Playing on Her Own

Updated on December 04, 2012
M.W. asks from Elkridge, MD
12 answers

My daughter will be 3 at the end of January. I don't know if it's just me, or if there are other toddlers like this... but she doesn't seem to want to play on her own for longer than 5 minutes! She'll start a project or toy (dollhouse, coloring, playdough, playing in her kitchen, etc) and after 5 minutes, she's back to walking around aimlessly or bothering her baby brother while I'm trying to nurse or get him down for a nap!

Shouldn't a toddler age be able to play by herself for at least an hour or so?? Am I asking too much? Am I supposed to constantly play with her? What advice or tricks have any of you learned?

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

Featured Answers



answers from Chicago on

Have you always played with her? If so, then no, you can't expect much more.

My son (3 this week!) spends most of the day playing alone. So yes, he plays in 60 minutes blocks without needing me all the time. I see him wandering occasionally, but he usually finds something to occupy himself with. He has always played alone or with his sister. I do a little play time with them in the morning and in the afternoon, the rest of the time they are on their own.

Get her set up with something and then go do a task, then come back in the room for a minute, and then leave again.

More Answers


answers from Boise on

Three year olds don't have long attention spans as a rule. So yes, you kinda are asking to much. That doesn't mean you have to play with her or entertain her though. Make sure she has multiple options during the day, and don't worry about her wondering, even that get's boring after a while.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Okay, I never really "played" with my kids, so to speak, but I was pretty much always engaged with them.
When I was in the kitchen, they were in the kitchen, either "helping" me or doing coloring or play doh or something at the table.
When I was outside, they were outside, bouncing balls, digging in the dirt or sand or whatever.
When I was nursing a baby, my kids were usually next to me, we were either reading books or watching Sesame Street or something similar.
She probably just wants to be near you, and feel a connection, especially with a new baby in the house.
You don't need to play with her, just include her in what you're doing, let her be a part of it.
Eventually she'll get bored and go build or create something on her own, especially if you're doing something extra tedious like folding laundry, lol!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New London on

The baby is taking up Mom's time and she is letting you know!

When you are nursing the baby, try reading a toddler book to her or ask her to make you some food from her kitchen.

On the other hand, if u are putting the baby down for his nap and she is making to much noise--use a firm voice and tell her that you will come and get her after the baby is asleep.

No, you should not be constantly playing with her !

I would take my older one to the outside park and push her on the swing while the baby was in the stroller on many occasions.

Only one of my kids was able to play alone for an entire hour when she was 2 and 3 quarters.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

chuckle At three she has a very short attention span and will go from one activity to the next quite often. If you've not been playing with her all the time then she doesn't expect that now tho she may require lots of attention from you.

Walking aimlessly is OK. Does she have toys that can be out at the same time so that she can pick up a different activity? I suggest that you can redirect her to a different activity when she comes to bother baby brother. She does need your direction. Baby brother is so much fun. smile. I suggest that you plan for several things that she can do before you start with baby brother. Perhaps let her spend some time playing with him while you transition her to an activity. Talk with her often about how baby brother needs to be left alone while you're nursing him and then remind her when she starts toward you.

She can learn to leave him alone with consistent reminders from you.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

A 3 yr old should be able to play independently, but for an hour is asking too much. My 3 yr old will play for about half that time, only if her 5 yr old brother is not home. When they are both home it is much harder for them to play for any length of time and get along. 15 mins tends to be about it before I need to speak up to mediate some kind of disagreement between them.

When I had a baby and toddler, I used to keep a special basket or bag of toys that were reserved for times I really needed my older one to be occupied without my involvement. The novelty helped keep him interested for longer than all the toys that were available full time. I made sure these special toys were only available every couple of days for a limited time, an hour or less, so they'd hold the novelty for a bit before I had to switch them out for something else.

I also started rotating toys once my 2nd was born and I needed my 1st to be more independent. Same idea, keep things novel and interesting. You may also do a temporary toy swap with a friend.

Also, TV is extremely limited in our house, I like to have multiple TV-free days each week and only watch a half hour on the days they do watch, with movies being special occasions. This lets me use tv as a "babysitter" when I need to. Since my kids don't get much of it, they are entranced. TV watching for my kids is very strategic on my part.

Also, kids get creative when they are "bored" so you don't necessarily need to jump in to redirect when she is looking for something to do. Give her some time and she'll figure it out.

Oh, and my kids LOVE to have jobs. A little hand broom to sweep crumbs under the table, old socks on the hands to dust, a spray bottle of vinegar and paper towels to shine a window, folding wash clothes, matching socks, washing dishes...my kids love to work. Give her something to do that will help you and make her feel grown up.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

*Shouldn't a toddler age be able to play by herself for at least an hour or so??*

Yes, expecting WAAAAAAY too much. Think of it this way; their attention span is about one minute per year of age. ONE minute. One. Toddlers are marvelous at 'coming back to home base'...they go and explore their world for a bit, then come back for comfort, security, feedback about what they just did.

When I was lead teacher for a toddler group, what really helped was for me to be engaged in an activity *with* the children some of the time, sharing their attention to the activity. Consider a toddler or young child like a rechargeable battery with a very short life. Consider: they come to us to recharge, go off and do something, and then come back to recharge again. I found complementary side-by-side activities worked well for myself and my son when he was little; we'd bring his stool over to the sink while I washed dishes on one side and he'd play in the bubbles on the other. Or I'd dig out a patch of dirt in the garden near where I was working so he'd have a place to dig while I was working in the yard. Folding clothes, he'd play in the laundry basket (sometimes inverted for him to pretend to be an 'animal in a cage' and I'd fold laundry.

They DO grow to play on their own, as their capabilities grow. Around 3.5 or so we started Quiet Time, using a timer, for short times. Start with five minutes, so they learn to trust that the timer *will* go off, and then we increased our time so that now, at five, he can go take 45 minutes to an hour by himself. I also make sure that we have a great time of connection before the separation of Quiet Playtime, so that his little battery is filled up again. Trust that if you give this a lot of time, this will improve. Your child will find that they are capable of doing more without your assistance and as their sense of ability improves, they need you less.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Five minutes of playing alone is about as long as you can expect at this time. Unless she's got someone actively engaging her (me/sibling/friend), nearly the only thing that will keep my daughter (3.5) sitting put in one place for longer than that is the TV. Just recently, she's started to like going in her room and looking at books by herself or singing to herself, and she'll do that for 10-15 minutes on occasion.. but it's a very recent development.

If the main problem is that she's messing with her brother when you're caring for him, it might be that she's expressing a little (totally normal) jealousy. Make sure that you're giving her enough "you" time when you can, like when he's napping or there is someone else available to care for him. And, before you get ready to nurse him or put him to bed, you could ask her if she'd like to play Mommy to one of her dolls or stuffed animals while you take care of him. Get her a play baby bottle (or better yet give her one of her brother's empty bottles - nonbreakable of course) and have her sit next to you and feed her teddy bear. When you burp the baby, have her burp teddy. When it's naptime, give her a little receiving blanket so she can put her "baby" to bed. She will feel very grown up and proud of herself.

I've also had good success letting my DD "help" me with whatever she can, too. She loves putting laundry in the washer, helping me put it in the dryer and push the button; one of her favorite things is to close the little cover for the detergent compartment on the dishwasher after I've put the soap in (odd, I know) and then close the door. When I am cleaning the bathroom I make some soap bubbles in the sink, give her a rag and ask her to "clean" the sink or give her some of her bath toys to play with. In fact, even when I'm not in there cleaning, THAT will keep her occupied for a good long time. You just have to be OK with water getting on the floor; I use it as an opportunity to clean the floor when she's done. At my sister's house on Thanksgiving, DD saw her sweeping with one of those little brooms and dustpans with the long handle, and she spent most of the rest of our visit going around sister's house and "cleaning up the mess." (We are SO getting one of those.) You can also ask her to help you sort out laundry when you're folding it (can you find all of the socks and put them over here... can you put all of Daddy's white shirts in one pile...).

Take care and good luck.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

My son did not voluntarily play on his own for more than 5 minutes at a time until he was more than 4. He started daycare at 9 weeks and was perfectly able to play on his own or cooperatively at daycare and preschool much earlier, but he would not choose to play by himself at home. For an hour or more? Wow - that is a LONG time. He is almost 7 and he very rarely if ever disappears to play on his own for that long even now.

So yes - you are supposed to play with her. When I needed to get things done - cooking, laundry, etc - DS would 'help'. Of course that took longer but that is honestly part of having a child. I was also lucky that he still napped at 3 years, so I got lots of 'boring' things done during naptime.

It might help if you wore the baby so you can pay attention to her while the baby still gets human contact and to hear your voice.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

Well, most of these replies shock me. I had my first two 12 months apart and the second one always wanted to play by himself and played cars, etc. for long times alone because he always had a brother so close to play with. He did play together too. My other kids all played by age 3 and entertained themselves as well as playing with siblings. My grandchildren now age 3 will even stay in the basement and play alone for a bit with all the toys and talk away while playing. The twins play together or alone very well. Of course I am usually near and talk a lot to them while they play but I think a 3 year old should be able to play alone for awhile and make believe and play with toys. Try putting her where the toys are and start her playing with something and then tell her you need to do whatever and that you'll check on her in a bit. Too many kids these days wonder around doing 'nothing' and that's a shame they can't entertain themselves. Get her a magna doodle and tell her to draw while you feed the baby, etc., etc. Give her instructions so when she goes to school she's not wandering around there too. Kids need to be constructive and learn and play is learning at this age.


answers from Norfolk on

Hi, M.:

We are teaching out children to have attachment disorders by sending them off to play by themselves.

See everyone using cell phones, ipads, and notepads. People are becoming so disconnected from each other.

If our families are going to feel like a failure because the child doesn't go off and not bother them, the parents, we are in for a rude awakening.

My observation notices the warehousing of elders in nursing homes, warehousing of infants and children in day cares, and the students are segregated into schools for certain age groups. Now I am reading parents wanting their children to play alone for hours.

We are destined for a fall in our country.
Good luck.



answers from New York on

My daughter is 2 1/2 and doesn't play on her own for even five minutes! There are no siblings so I am the target playmate. Even in playgroups, others are off on their own and I can't converse with the other moms.

In your case, do you tihnk she is acting out because of the new sibling? Was she able to play on her own before the new sibling?

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions