How to get babies to play by themselves?


11 Years
Jul 1, 2008
Portland, Oregon
I'm having a rough time getting my one year old to ever play by himself even a little bit. He has plenty of toys and plenty of things that are not toys that he finds fun to play with, but he only will play if I'm looking at him and engaging with him. This is obviously a problem. I try to give him as much of my attention as humanly possible, but I have a demanding job and sometimes I need him to occupy himself for a while. Half an hour would be great. I don't want to neglect him or improperly supervise him. I just want him to not follow me around screaming for short amounts of time. When we have guests, he seems so good natured and happy that they don't understand how this baby could ever cause me any difficulty, but as soon as it's just me and him, it's like he turns depressed and has to just scream and cry and seek attention. Does anyone have any ideas for how I can get him to self-actualize? I don't need a huge improvement...just a little one. It seems like this kid has always been like this, unable to be entertained by anything visual that is not a human (mostly me) looking in his direction and being entertaining.
My experience is not vast. I only survived two children, but I sometimes think what you see is what you get. Our son from the second he entered our lives was mellow, laid back and self entertaining. We joke that he would have stayed in his play pen until puberty if allowed to do so. Our daughter wanted/wants continual interaction with others. They have grown into self sufficient adults and are good parents themselves, but their personalities are 180 degrees from one another. Same home, parents and so different. Go figure? I've always rationalized their dfferences being attributable (is that a word?) to the fact that we guys are so much more easy going.
Well this might sound wasn't. When my nephew was 14 months old his mother had a second baby, being the nice aunt, I said he could stay with us until everything was ok at home. I had forgotten how much she had made him her whole world. The first day with us was fustrating, I had to continue to stop and play with him all day long. He couldn't or wouldn't entertain himself by playing with his toys at all. We place...nnot mommy....and all the other things that you think it is. There were complications with the delivery and my sister in law didn't leave the hospital for 11 days.

The third day... I put him in his playpen with his toys and Barnie on TV... and let him fusss, I had to get things done. After about 15 minutes of fussing he settled down to playing for almost an hour. So each day he went into his pen and played, and each day it was a little longer. He descovered toys and playing by himself. He grew up to be a good kid, he fishes in the Bahama and captains a boat.

They won't learn to play by themselves until they have no choice. Invest in earplugs. You'll be doing your son a favor. My SD has a child that thinks the whole world revolves around him. Nearly five years old and he still can't occupy himself. She's constantly frustrated.
I've made little play areas around the house. There is a drawer in each bedroom that has all toys. There is a spot in the kitchen and one in the living room. Wherever we are in the house, there is something for her to "discover". Its really helped her to become a baby who can intertain herself. Even when I'm on the computer she has a cubby hole under my desk. She's such a sweetie. But, like the other poster said. Earplugs!
At that age, they're still like 8 week old puppies - can't be trusted w/out immediate supervision, don't know how to invent games to amuse themselves, are uncoordinated, etc. Look at it this way, soon enough he won't want any of your attention - I know this doesn't help, but my DH is 19, and I really miss her! Do you have a trustworthy neighbor that could watch him for an hour in exchange for eggs or something?
Thanks for your insight guys. I have the same cubby system going on, but when he gets this way, he refuses to get taken with it. I've also tried to make him cry it out and to distract him, but neither approach has really made much of a dent.
Could you just like hold him while you work? Maybe put some toys over there or something?
You've probably already tried that, though, definitely couldn't do that easily with my sister.

And you know crying it out doesn't actually 'self-soothe' them or anything...It just tells the kid that, when you need something, no one will come and they give up.

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