Q&A: Independent Playtime, uninterrupted sleep

My question for you is about independent at time. My almost 2.5 yr old and almost 1 yr old seem incapable of playing independently. How do you start it? What were your techniques? What rules did you instill? How should I go about doing for a 1 yr old and. 2.5 year old? How should I do it different for each of them?

At just over a year old, Little Bug was incapable of playing independently, too and this was when I knew I needed to help her learn this valuable skill.

I started Independent Playtime with Little Bug at the age of 14 months. I put her in her room with several toys laid out on the floor for her to play with, put the gate up on her bedroom door, set the timer for only 5 minutes and told her, “Have fun playing in your room with your toys!! Mommy will be back when the timer goes off!”

She cried the entire 5 minutes the first time. You just have to stick with it and be consistent.

Here are my top 5 tips for successful Independent Playtime.

1. The timer is KEY! Set the timer and say you will be back when the timer goes off and then come back as soon as that timer beeps! Eventually she will learn that it is not her crying that brings Mama back, it is the timer going off.

2. Each day I would increase the timer by 2 minutes. We slowly but surely worked our way up to 30 minutes. Then, once she did 30 minutes well we extended to 45 minutes and then 60 minutes. (Here is a link for the appropriate IP times by age.)

3. Rotate the toys that the baby/child plays with to keep things interesting. I rotate toys about every other month.

4. Stick with it and be consistent. It is hard work to get your baby/child doing IP when you start implementing it during the toddler years. But, if you stick with it, your children will learn that it is a fun time!

5. Pick a time of day to do IP that you know you will be home. This was it can be a consistent part of your baby/child’s routine. We do IP right after breakfast for one hour.

Your 2.5 year old can do IP in his/her bedroom. Your one year old, depending on maturity level, might would benefit doing IP in the playpen (pac n play) for a few months until he/she is older. If you feel he/she is ready for IP in the bedroom, then start there. I think Babywise recommends using the playpen for IP until somewhere between 18-24 months when you transition them to Independent Playtime in their bedroom.

I honestly don’t know what I would do without IP, especially since Sweet Pea’s birth! IP allows our mornings to just run smoother in every way possible. While Little Bug is doing IP, I have one hour to: get dressed, spend time with the Lord, get Sweet Pea to sleep for a nap and, on certain days, I use half that time to do some household chores around the house (although since Sweet Pea’s birth I haven’t actually been able to get back to doing chores during IP). IP just helps us start our mornings right! It is amazing what I can get done in just one hour’s time when my little one is doing her Independent Playtime.

Babywise Mom wrote about the developmental benefits of having your baby/child do Independent Playtime here.

To see an index of all her “Independent Playtime” blog posts, click here.


When following Babywise, what do you do if the baby wakes up before the normal 2.5 to 3 hour feeding time in the middle of the night. When my little guy was a newborn, and all the way up to about 16 weeks, he would wake up every 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. I finally just let him cry and that worked but I was wondering what BW would say? Go in? Rock? Feed?

Babywise would suggest sleep training for a situation like this once you are 100% sure that baby is not waking from hunger, dirty diaper, cold, hot, pain, etc. If you are 100% confident that baby is waking out of habit and just needs to learn to put himself to sleep and stay asleep, sleep training is the answer! (Again, not for everyone. You have to be comfortable with letting baby cry.)

I reached this point with Little Bug. She was 15 weeks old and she would wake after 40ish minutes of napping. She needed to learn to fall asleep and stay asleep. A baby’s transitions from deep to light sleep every 30-45ish minutes and many babies will wake at this point of sleep instead of transitioning themselves to deep sleep. Because of everything I read about how important uninterrupted sleep is to a baby, I desired to give my child that gift.

One day, at 3 months old, I laid Little Bug down for a nap and sure enough, like clockwork she was awake (but not ready to be awake) at the 45 minute mark. I let her cry it out. For an hour. The longest hour of my parenting career! Smile But, you know what? Each nap from then on out the crying decreased dramatically. Within a week (yes, just one week), she was taking uninterrupted naps of 1.5 to 2 hours in length. That week of crying was so worth my daughter learning the skill of putting herself to sleep and staying asleep. I have created healthy sleeping habits in my daughter that she will carry with her as she continues to grow and develop.

And think about it this way. Do you feel your best when you go to bed only to be woken up by the dog puking 3 hours after you have fallen asleep and then the baby needing to eat about 2 hours after you’ve cleaned up the puke? (Yes, that night recently happened for me. I was a tad groggy the next morning and dysfunctional.) Clearly, I am in a phase of life right now where I am getting very interrupted sleep and I don’t feel like I felt before Sweet Pea’s birth when sleep was uninterrupted! We all need sleep and when we are well rested we tend to cope with what life brings much better. This is simply my opinion, but I feel many parents underestimate the importance of sleep for their baby/children.

To you, I say “way to go” in giving your son the gift of sleep when he just needed his Mommy to teach him the skill of uninterrupted sleep!

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