Our 3.5 year old daughter has been difficult with finding things to play with by herself. She’ll say things like “I’m bored” or “what time is it right now?” Because she wants me to tell her what to play with and figure it out for her. She is always talking to me, demanding my attention and for me to play with her. She also follows me around all day and rarely will do much by herself other than when she does her independent play time in her room in the afternoon. I know she knows how to figure it out, because I’ve seen her quietly play with toys at friends houses for play dates. How do I encourage her to figure out play time for herself at home? Is this a behavioral issue or just something where I need to point her in the right direction?
Hello, and thank you for your question. The answer is no, it's not a behavioral issue (except in that it's a behavior you want to extinguish) and yes, you need to guide her towards resourcefulness!
I am going to make an experienced guess that your daughter has more than a few toys, and that they're not particularly organized. That fact in itself can be over-stimulating and create an environment where it's difficult for her to make choices. I recommend that you significantly pare down the toy collection and then organize what remains into a toy library over which the parents rule. Here's how:
1. Start with the stuffed animals and dolls. Pile them all in the middle of the floor and have her touch each one. The only ones that make the cut are the ones that are truly meaningful and special. If neither she nor you can recall where she got it, out it goes!
2. Next, gather all the battery operated toys, including electronics. If the batteries are dead, remove them and donate the toy. If the toy only does one thing, donate it. If you haven’t seen her use the toy in a while, donate it. If the toy truly annoys you and you wish she didn’t have it, donate it!
3. Round up all the building toys and determine which get used a lot. Those that aren’t played with should be donated. Keep the rest, as building toys are pretty wonderful in that children can design different things and there’s no right or wrong.
4. Dress-up clothes and props are great to have! Make sure that they still fit and are used. Donate any that aren’t.
5. Bring out all your board games and puzzles. Check for missing pieces and keep only the ones that are complete and you know will be enjoyed again.
6. Inventory the outdoor toys and determine which ones can be donated. (Many churches, women’s shelters, hospitals and preschools will appreciate your donations, as well as the standard drop off places.)
The next step in the toy overhaul is to organize and develop a toy system. This will help her keep things tidy and make her play more intentional. Arrange the toys in labeled bins (with words and pictures) and introduce her to the new protocol. She is allowed to choose no more than two bins. When she is finished playing with the items in those bins, she will have to clean them up and put them away before she can get others. Parents are the official toy librarians and she must consult with an adult before swapping the bins.
I hope this is helpful! Please write again if you want clarification or further guidance.
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