Posted: Dec 26, 2012 4:56 AM
Playtime presents a perfect opportunity to help your child develop a healthy sense of independence.

"Encouraging independence through play is the best way!" says family life teacher, Anastasia Gavalas. "When experiences are presented in a fun, light-hearted way children are more open to trying new things. When parents allow children to discover their preferences and abilities, children naturally become more independent."

Give your child options

Praising creativity and imagination encourages the child to become more independent in everything they do.

"Present children with favorite toys and include something unfamiliar," suggests Gavalas. "Without leading, let them make independent choices about what to play with."

Give them lots of room to discover things to play with -- both at home and in public. "The more diversity you present, the more open your children will be to new experiences," explains Gavalas. "This naturally fosters more confidence and independence."

Be present without engaging

Playing alone is an important part of your child's development. "Free play -- because it spurs on much more creativity -- develops parts of the brain that directed play does not," says Kristin Emery, pediatric physical therapist and co-owner of Mommy Relief.

Lead your child to a room intended for play, such as his bedroom or the family room. "Bring laundry, knitting, anything (other than the phone and computer) and sit beside your child," says Emery.

"At first, he may want to do what you are doing. Don't ignore him, but give very boring answers. Soon enough, he will begin to wander to find something more interesting than you."

Let your child struggle

"It's perfectly OK to let your child struggle a little bit while playing. Children learn by trial and error," says educator Brandi Fisher. "Too many times I have seen parents do everything for their child."

Children learn by trial and error.

If your child is playing with Legos, for example, show her how to put them together and take them apart and encourage her to try it alone. "If she is still struggling," says Fisher, "help her while she is holding the toy so she also helps and feels a sense of accomplishment."

Do encourage and support -- Don't critique

"Young children develop independence when they receive encouragement and support for what they do, regardless of its outcome," says Guinevere Durham, educator, author and mom-of-six. "Each attempt will be better than the last."

"We tend to overcorrect when something doesn't meet our adult expectations," explains Dr. Durham. "When we correct, the child is hesitant to try next time without adult help."

Ask questions

"Children have reasons for why they do certain things or choose one thing over another," says Gavalas. "By asking questions, parents gain insight to how their children feel and think. And the children feel heard."

Be curious about your child's play efforts. "When your child creates something, talk about it," adds Dr. Durham. "[Say] 'That looks interesting -- tell me about it.'" You may not understand it, but your child will be able to explain every aspect. Praising creativity and imagination encourages your child to become more independent in everything she does.

More about precious preschoolers

Mommy school time
Solving common playtime battles
Real moms share: Do you schedule your preschooler?