Tummy Time: When to Start and Other Games Baby Plays

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That bright and shining day is finally here — the day you come home from the hospital! Beaming with pride, you stroll with purpose out the front doors, drive carefully home with baby in tow for the first time, and then plop them down alone in the backyard so that you can go get some work done. Have fun, baby!

No? Is that not how it’s done? Hmmm…you’d think we’d know that.

Well, no. You can’t do that (no seriously, you can’t.) But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let baby play alone for short periods. It’s a myth that babies shouldn’t be left alone to play. As long as they aren’t in danger, some time away from you is fine. In fact, independent play (supervised initially) is critical for your baby’s development.

Independent play (a term to use when trying to impress people with how much you know about playing alone) helps your baby develop self-reliance. They gain confidence in their own abilities when they figure something out, invent a new game, or accomplish a tricky task all on their own. They’re free to explore their own worlds without you there, both outside and in their imaginations.

As long as your child is safe, it’s okay just to let them be, whether they’re playing with a toy in their crib or stacking blocks in a child proofed area. You want your baby to be happy playing alone. Not only does this aid in their emotional development and burgeoning independence, but it also gives you a chance to take care of your own needs.

Of course, you shouldn’t leave baby alone all the time. Judge Wilkerson, the justice assigned to your case, will call that neglect. But frequent, short periods of independent play, supervised or unsupervised, will help your child blossom.

Games Baby Can Play on Their Own

Anything babies can safely do with you around, they can do on their own. Tummy time? Sure! Manipulating shiny objects? Absolutely! Doing your taxes? Depends how accurate you need them to be.

Tummy time is a great place to start. It’s one of the first “games” your baby will play, and it bears fruit whether supervised or not.

Tummy Time: When to Start

You can start tummy time immediately. Put your baby down to “play” as early as your first day home from the hospital. In the beginning you’ll supervise your baby’s explorations. According to American Academy of Pediatrics guidance, you should place awake and alert newborns on their stomach two to three times a day for three to five minutes. Tummy time will help your baby build core strength needed for sitting up, rolling over, crawling, and walking. It also helps ensure your baby has less chance of developing a flat head—plagiocephaly.

When doing tummy time, you should ensure they are laying on a surface that is not too hard and not too soft. A firm surface, similar to the mattress found in their crib is great—so this could be your sofa, carpeted floor, or putting a soft rug on a wood or ceramic floor.  There should be no fluffy blankets or stuffed animals near the child’s face or anywhere within reaching distance.

When you child is able to hold their head up, you can get down at eye level and smile and talk to them or give them high contrast cards to look at, or engaging toys that light up, play music, or are fun to touch.  Later on when you baby is sitting up, you can continue playtime by providing them with age appropriate toys to explore.

Your baby learns important social skills by playing with you, so be sure to include time with them, or with the whole family. But don’t discount the importance of playing alone in a safe, supervised environment.   If your little one is playing with blocks, stay close, and watch him as he is finally able to stack the blocks successfully all by himself!  Then, when you’re comfortable, leave them alone to explore their world at their own pace, away from watchful eyes.

You Can Do It, and So Can They

It can be difficult to disengage sometimes, so give yourself the permission to do so, knowing your baby is safe. If they’re resistant at first, make sure you’re giving them your undivided attention occasionally as well. As they become engaged in the play activity you can start to slowly back away, stepping away for progressively longer intervals. If you satisfy their initial desires for playing with their loved ones  they may be more willing to engage in solo play.

If they’re still resistant, demonstrate how to play alone. Let them see you enjoying the process. You might also move them to a new environment, or change out their toys, helping them delineate group play from solo pursuits.

Making a concerted, consistent effort to involve independent play is all it should take. Even resistant babies will eventually ease nicely into solo games, whether supervised or not, and then, in 16 to 20 years your taxes will be executed flawlessly!

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Dr. Eddie Valenzuela is an award winning pediatrician and the founder and CEO of Pediatric Solutions, LLC.

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