When Did Your Children Started Playing "Technically" Unsupervised

Updated on August 01, 2011
K.M. asks from Los Gatos, CA
26 answers

I have a 4 year old daughter and an almost 2 year old son. There is always someone with them at every second they play (my mom or my dad or I stay with them at ALL times) We have a 2 story home, baby profed, have a garage that was converted to play room next to the kitchen, and we have a backyard. I am not sure when it will be appropriate to have them play by themselves and perhaps I can be in the kitchen making dinner. I stay at home but that will change soon (school and work) besides I can't do anything (laundry, cooking, clean, etc) because I find myself always running after them... or I have to have my mom always sitting there watching them and it is not working anymore...)

By the way, I don't want to send out by themselves for hours no end :) I just sometimes wish I could make dinner while they play in the playroom (right next to me) but instead they want me to sit there and play (and I do play with them, engage them , sing with them, pretend to drink tea, etc...sometimes I just feel like I need to do that for every sec they are awake)

Help please!

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answers from Detroit on

Wow, you are an amazing gal:) There is no way I could sit there and play with my kids all day; I despise entertaining children that much:( I make an effort daily to take my kids somewhere like out to the park, for walks, to the pool, and library weekly, but that's about it. Every time there is down time, they use their imagination and entertain themselves. I have way too much other stuff to do.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

I guess when they can start crawling away from me. Well, probably before that even since I now put the baby on the floor with a few toys and let him play. The older ones can all play by themselves or well together without my input or supervision. They don't go out on the front street by themselves, but anywhere in the house is fair game.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dayton on

Now. Tell them you are making dinner, and they are to stay in the playroom. Put a gate on the door if you need to. A few days, and I bet it'll go smoothly. Teaching them to play independently is one of the most wonderful things you can do for them and you - they develop their creativity, problem solving skills, independence, and you get a moment of peace. They be fine especially since they have each other to play with.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from New York on

I think my kids played by themselves in a safe place, with me close by and listening, when they were 1
AT four my kids were playing outside, the oldest two had a fenced in back yard. the youngest didnt but he would sit on the swing for such a long time and it would squeak, as long as I heard the squeak squeak I knew exactly where he was! when the squeaking stopped I would run to a window to see where he was headed next! Read the posts about the kids who whine and cry all day cuz they're bored and you'll see you want to get out of the habit of entertaining them all day and allow them to entertain themselves.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Albuquerque on

You have to teach your children to entertain themselves and let them know it's OK that mom/dad/grandma aren't right there. My girls started playing by themselves for very short periods of time around age 2, and now at 4 they spend about half their time in a different room than the adult watching them. We're not ignoring them, but when it's time to make dinner, I go into the kitchen and the girls stay in the den (or come with me if they prefer). This morning, the girls and my husband were playing in the den and he got up to take a shower while they continued playing. (I was out walking a neighbor's dog) They know how to go get him if they need something. Now that I'm home with them, I notice that they like to play in a different room than the one I'm in some times. They'll go into the playroom if I'm folding laundry in the den, or they'll go set up dolls in their bedroom. I check on them every few minutes and will certainly engage if they want, but sometimes it's nice for kids to have their own space. So I'd say that your older child is certainly ready to spend time by herself, and probably the younger one too.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

holy smokes - they've never been alone?!! WOW!!! How have you managed?

When they were younger (mine are now 9 and 11) I put them in their playpen so I could fix dinner or do the laundry...or take a shower...my parents lived on the other side of the country so I didn't have anyone but myself to get the stuff done...

At 4 and 2 - they should be able to play in a room with you and NOT have you running after them...that's MY take...I raised my kids differently...if you have your house baby-proofed - I don't know why you are always chasing after them...

Now that everything will be changing - you will have to prepare them NOT to be the center of attention...that's gonna take some doing. And with you needing to get homework done if you are going back to school - your kids are going to have to learn boundaries and rules and realize that mommy has stuff that she has to do....

Urgh - I don't feel I'm offering you any advice.....I'm sorry - with a baby-proofed house - I would've put up a baby gate to confine them to one room and did my stuff....


6 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

You've been hovering over them for four years?? How on earth do you get anything done?

You can supervise with your ears as well as your eyes for just about all risks except drowning, choking, and hanging. If the room lacks loops of rope to get entangled in, does not have a swimming pool, and is not full of choking hazards, they should be fine. Check on them occasionally. Definitely check on them if you hear something concerning.....or things get strangely quiet.

It is long past time for you to learn to trust them, and for them to learn to trust themselves. Let go. Breathe. They'll be fine.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

I think they can do it! They probably just aren't used to doing it b/c someone is always around. I would probably give the older child a head's up by saying something like, wow you're getting so big that I can trust you to play by yourself in here while I'm in the other room...etc.

My kids will be 4 and 2 in September. My daughter (4) is allowed to go out back in the fenced in yard to swing or play by herself as long as I am near a window that is able to see her. She does this usually when I'm making dinner or whatever. I can see her and check on her easily and she doesn't go into the front. My son is so busy that he usually moves from room to room rather quickly. I let him go upstairs by himself too but if he's gone too long then I absoultely go looking for him! ;)

I do understand about feeling the need to get something done...solo! ;) They will get the hang of it, but you just have to teach them to do it, just like everything else! Good luck!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

At some point you have to teach them how to entertain themselves. While I think it's great that you entertain them all day, they will never figure out how to use their imaginations & just "play" on their own unless they are given the opportunity. My DD started doing so around 3, I'd say. She's an only child, so the downfall is that she doesn't even have a built in playmate at all. Yes, I do thinks with my child, but I am not the type of mom to be all over my kid, so she figured out real quick how to entertain herself.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Daytona Beach on

they should definitely be able to do it. they want you there because you always have been and it's routine now. my son can play by himself all day and play in his room by himself. my daughter can't, she requires someone to be with her at all times, doesn't matter who it is. but my husband did this to her because he was always there playing with her. let them play and use their imagination. you are right next to them. you won't be upstairs and them downstairs in the kitchen with something hot on the stove.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

I have a one story, small house. I can hear everything that happens in our house. By about 9 months (?) my child was doing the kind of playing "alone" that you've described - where she would be playing in a space very near by, while I was cooking, making a phone call, drinking tea with a friend, cleaning, etc.

When our second child came into our home (2 3/4 when she started staying with us on and off), my daughter was approx. 20 months old. They *would* play for minutes-an hour on end. Not out of earshot, but out of line of sight. Then, when she started living with us, there was big transition and the kids fought All Day Long. *Sigh*. It was tough. I had to be The Negotiator all day, every day. Nearly lost my bananas. No kidding.

After six months of THAT, they went back to their delightful games. The imagination station.

Now, they are four and three and it's wooooooonderful. My go ride their bikes in the driveway (I live on a street that has cars pass MAYBE three-six times a day and slowly - and my kids KNOW to stay away from the road and within the tree line), and if the doors are open I can still hear them where ever they are. I'll check in every few minutes and ask them to make line of sight. I'll yell, "Check ins" and they'll come around the corner and say, "Here we are!" and then go back to play.

Inside, they'll play in their room, or in the living room...
If it goes silent, then they are up to mischief!

Good luck discovering what words for your family!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

For some its not so much an age thing but level of independance in the personality. Mine began to do some unsupervised play around age 2. Now at 3.5 she does a lot of play by herslef in her room (but not outside). One of My SILs still does not let her almost 3 year old play by herself because she feels the need to supervise so closely (classic helicopter) and makes husband do all the meal prep even though he works full time). My other SIL's little girls played great by themsleves, then she added that third boy and was thrown for a loop when he needed constant interaction and could not/would not play by himslef. He just wasn't independant, didn't have the imagination or what ever it is that makes a person be able to entertain themselves. Your oldest may lack that independence as well, you may have a hard time leaving them to themselves because of your parenting style. Here are some things that have helped me. When she was little I had a toy area for her in my kitchen so she could play near by. A music CD player helped her enjoy some time in her room without me. Also, I often simply said I could not play anymore, I had to do my housework, or make dinner. They don't like that, but its part of life they have to learn about. Through complaints and nagging, there are some things I simply have to get done wither they are happy about it or not. As for outdoors, I let my three year old play by herslef only when I'm able to check on her every 3-5 min. So, I don't do unsupervised outdoor play just yet.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Rapid City on

I let my 22 month daughter play by herself in her room. Our house is also baby proofed, like yours. This allows me to get something quick done downstairs or just relax.I have one of those door wedges I keep under her door so she can't close it and it's been successfully for us. I wouldn't let her outside or anywhere like that alone for awhile though. We don't have a basement so I don't have to worry about that. Rest of doors of rooms I don't want her in are closed like our bedroom, nursery I'm preparing, and bathroom and we have gates if needed.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Really...they're too young to expect them to play for long independently. Try the "engage & walk away" technique--where you get them going on something (Blocks, coloring) then go do something then keep coming to check every 10 minutes.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

It depends on the child.
I you have a "line of sight" destructible little one, then no, you do not take your eyes off of him until he graduates. OK maybe 8th grade. lol
If you have well behaved tea partying little ones then they can play by themselves for a while so you can get things done.
If your house is babyproofed you should be fine, if you do not allow them to entertain themselves then they will follow you around when they are 10 and whine that there is nothing to do because they will expect you to be their entertainment.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Inside they can play by themselves for a while. My 2 1/2 yr old only child plays by herself during the day at times. Outside, not so sure. In a fenced backyard I'd still be out there sipping tea or whatever just chillin and watching her if she was 4. It makes my skin crawl to see my neighbors 7, 4, and 2 yr old out playing in the front yard and neighboring yards (the 2 yr old has almost been run over 20x but no matter how often you tell this mom she still doesn't watch him). Inside is different than outside, especially if everything is babyproofed and they aren't going to suck on bleach or anything. Let them play alone for a while inside and you can get your stuff done.

I thought it was funny because I have a converted playroom (from garage) next to the kitchen too. We have outside doors in there so they are locked where she can't reach, the house cleaners are blocked off with those cabinet locks, and the litter box is gated off so she can't play with the cat stuff. As long as it's safe go for it inside. If your worried about the 4 yr old opening the doors you could get door sensors that when you open the door it beeps or says door #1 ajar. They sell them at home depot for not so much (like $10).

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Another option is:
Use a baby monitor, and put it in the room/area they are in... and put the other one in the kitchen or where you are... and then you can HEAR them.
And teach them to talk to it....

That is what I did.
We have upstairs/downstairs and an outside fenced in yard.

My kids are 4 and 8.
But throughout the house, I can hear them, anyway.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Provo on

My "apartment" ( I live with my parents still and I have the basement to myself) Our rooms are down a hallway If I gate off right after the bathroom, I have the perfect apartment type setting. I have baby-proofed everything so I feel that it's ok for me to be in my room, and my son to play in his. I am right next to his room so I can be there quick. I listen to what he is doing and things are great. He's 21 month. I feel your 4 year old is plenty old enough to play in the next room with you cooking. Same with the two year old. Of course look in on them from time to time or when it gets suspiciously quiet.
But like the other mom's say, it does depend on the child. My sons half sister I wouldn't trust being alone period. My son, yes I can trust him. So do what you feel YOU need to do for your family. YOU do however deserve to cook dinner in peace.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

My son has never liked being alone.
He'll read on his own in another room (he's 12 now) but he still likes being in a room with me and he helps me a lot with what ever I'm doing.
Don't let 'hovering' comments get to you - they don't know your kids and theirs are possibly quite different.
I enjoyed playing with my son at all ages.
We built some pretty fancy Lego palaces together.
One of the reasons we have kids is to be able to play with toys again.
Once they're grown the cleaning will still be there (and maybe we can play again once the grand kids come along).
I'd wait till the youngest is about 4 before letting them play out of sight for awhile.
Toddlers can get into a heap of trouble, they can't explain exactly what happened and they don't have the common sense to not escape the yard or stay out of mischief.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

I can't really tell if you your kids are the ones insisting on you playing with them or if this is something you are worried about leaving them alone. If it's your kids then you can try what I do with mine (who constantly want me to entertain them). I will tell my kids that I will play with them for 20 mins (or whatever amount of time you feel you can) and then I have to get some work done and they need to play by themselves. They wine and complain but eventually they find something to entertain themselves with and are happy with the time I've spent with them. If I really don't have time, I firmly let them know that I can't play now and they need to go play, but I will play with them later. If this is an issue where you are worried about leaving them, just know that you have baby proofed your house and that they are perfectly safe. I let my kids roam free around the house by 1. I would frequently check on them but they were usually just fine playing with their toys or exploring.


answers from Houston on

I have a two year old who plays by herself for 30 minute stretches, My oldest was the same way. I do know some 4 year olds that i wouldn't leave alone for a minute though. That aspect of my kids has always been easy for me. I didnt let my oldest play alone outside until 1st grade though, and even then she couldnt play in the front yard. Now that she is entering third i let her play in the front and walk to her friends house that is 10 doors down.

It just depends on the kid, when i was 5 i was walking to the store Id never let my kids do that, that early. Im going to play it by ear and use my gut.



answers from San Francisco on

At their ages, they should be able to play without being watched every second, especially if they are in a room right next to where you are. They have gotten used to you being their "social director" as I call it. You can still play from the other room - they can hear you sing or you can pretend that you're having a telephone conversation with them or whatever. They do not need you next to them every waking minute and they will develop some independence and self-confidence if they are left alone to figure out their own way to play and their own way to get along with each other. the four year old is old enough to let you know if the 2 year old is doing something dangerous. Give it a try; I think you and your kids will both enjoy some separation.



answers from San Francisco on

For me it was about 2, maybe younger. Now, he's 3 and I feel pretty comfortable with him in the backyard while I am doing dishes or in the kitchen cooking. I have a large window so I can see him. I'll pull the window up to tell him things now and then, such as if he's doing something he shouldn't. I feel even more okay with him on his own inside the house. We have a house that's about 855 sq. feet, so I can hear anything. It's not complete independence, but I can get stuff done. I work full time and don't have a housekeeper or any family in town so it's mandatory that I clean up and stuff while he's up. He is on a late schedule.
If I were you, I'd let them play in the playroom while I was is the kitchen and just leave the door open. I'd think you're son would most likely come in for you, but I'd encourage him to go play on his own or with his sister. With 2, I'm sure it's much different because they'd have to have interference at times - to help them learn to get along and share.
My sister has 10 kids and I remember her telling me when there were 7 that she'd sometimes read a book up on the balcony while they were in the backyard. That way she watch from afar and tell them things to do/ not do. If she was down there, they'd bombard her constantly. They learned to work things out on their own more. They are all very well behaved!



answers from San Francisco on

such a sweet mom you are. You and your children will have lots of good memories of these days. About your question ....I would say listen to your instinct. You are feeling the pull that that it's time for mom to be able to make dinner at least, fold a load of laundry. The last thing you want is to feel burned at the end of the day. And it's good for the children to know they are okay with you just in another room. So I encourage you to trust your motherly instinct and yes , I do many things to keep life manageable in another part of the house from my children. In fact the 4 year old is old enough to be a helper. You can say play together and call me if your brother is getting into something. Sometimes the older will feel good having some charge. You are far more supervising then I am. So in a nutshell, sounds like your feeling that it's time for mom to be able to get something done from close by and this would be good healthy independence .



answers from San Francisco on

In a baby-proofed play room right next to the kitchen, it would be fine now to be cooking dinner while they play. They'll learn to more independent of you in a safe setting. They will learn that they are not always the center of attention. They'll learn to develop their own creativity in play. Weaning them of your constant presence will take some time. Boo-boos will happen. They will learn from that too.


answers from San Francisco on

As long as they are within earshot, and you peek in on them they should be fine.
I'm sure they want you to play with them because that is what they are used to. I'm not sure if this is a trend in the "new" generation of mommies (mine were little between 1993 and 2003) but I never played with my kids. I never even thought about it. They had each other. I made sure they had interesting toys and activities (sand and water and play doh were favorites, and building forts out of couch cushions and blankets!) I took them to lots of places to run around and play with other kids, and we had preschool/family friends over for play dates on a regular basis.
What I liked most to do with them was read, cook and watch movies together :)
It sounds like they just need a some "retraining" a little time without mom (or grandma) constantly hovering so they can learn to use their imagination and have some fun together!

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