Looking for fun ways to play with your little one when you’re at home all day? Discover how to entertain a baby with these simple ways.
When my eldest was a newborn, I could get away with laying him on a blanket and shaking a few rattles as entertainment.
But then he started staying awake more, and I found myself needing to up the ante: We did tummy time, I placed him in an infant seat, we read. But still, he started to get cranky and bored, tired of the same toys. Even I felt like we were doing the same things over and over.
I had to carry him around because setting him down for even a second would make him cry. I shook a rattle, sang songs, and played with him every minute because once I left his sight, he’d go right back to crying.
It’s not like I wasn’t denying him attention—he saw me all day. And he wasn’t hurt or uncomfortable because he’d be fine the minute I picked him up.
I knew something had to be done. So, I looked for ways to help my baby play by himself and rely less on me to be entertained.
How to entertain a baby
Your baby fusses when you step away because he’s used to having you around—it’s all he’s been used to so far. His emotions (fear, confusion, discomfort) are understandable if he’s not used to being alone. Knowing this will help you gain perspective and patience, especially as he cries for you.
Another reason is that he wants you to engage with him—he needs his “bucket filled.” pushing him around in the stroller with zero interaction doesn’t fill it.
And lastly, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, from the activities you plan for the day to what you do to spend time with him. Sometimes, all you need is a list of ideas to run through to plan a few activities or remind you of your options.
In this article, I’ll start off by listing the activities and ideas I used to entertain my baby, followed with how to teach your baby to self-entertain. Let’s get started:
1. Do “face time”
Did you know your baby’s favorite “toy” is your face? He’s fascinated by the many emotions and slight changes your face reveals. Even a newborn who isn’t smiling yet is still processing all that information and can’t get enough of watching his parents talk or sing to him.
Lay your baby down on a blanket and talk to him, changing and exaggerating your face to make it even more interesting. Use props like toys, rattles and books to give you a few topics to talk about. You can also sit down on the floor with your feet flat on the ground and lay him on your knees.
Another option is to encourage your other children to talk to him. Not only does this encourage a strong sibling bond from the beginning, he’ll also love seeing his big brother or sister cooing at him.
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2. Play laundry peek-a-boo
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Involving your baby in daily tasks not only allows you to get things done, it’s also a perfect opportunity to spend time with him.
One of my babies’ favorite games was peek-a-boo, especially as I was folding laundry. Lay your baby down on a blanket or a Boppy like this one, then place a burp cloth or other piece of clothing from the laundry pile over his face. Then with a flourish, remove the cloth and reveal a big smile on your face.
If not peek-a-boo, you can talk about the clothes you’re folding. Hold up an item and describe what it is, its color, or use. This is a fantastic way to engage and even develop his language skills.
3. Listen to or sing nursery songs
Nursery songs provide plenty of opportunities for you to sing along to your baby, as well as introduce him to different melodies and sounds.
Keep these songs handy to play throughout the day. A few of my favorite albums are:
- 100 Singalong Songs For Kids by Cedarmont Kids
- De Colores and Other Latin American Folk Songs by José-Luis Orozco
- Animal Favorites by Music For Little People Choir
- The Singable Songs Collection by Raffi
- Children’s Songs, A Collection of Childhood Favorites by Susie Tallman
4. Carry and show your baby picture frames and paintings
Your home likely has framed paintings and photographs hanging on its walls.
Carry your baby throughout your home and describe what each of the paintings or photographs mean. Show him the different people in the photos, when it was taken, and how long ago. Describe the paintings and its colors and subjects, and ask your baby what he thinks of it.
You might be surprised how fascinated he is looking at these different frames. Plus this gives you an opportunity to spend time with him in your arms.
5. Move the infant seat throughout different parts of your home
As useful as swings and infant seats can be, sometimes babies get bored sitting in them, especially in the same place.
One trick I did was to place my babies in infant seats, but move the seats to different rooms in our home. For instance, I’d put my baby in the seat near the kitchen while I cooked, or in my bedroom while I made my bed.
Doing this allows you to keep your baby nearby while still getting things done. And the different scenery provides him with a new view to look at, rather than keeping the infant seat or swing in the same area of your home all the time.
Don’t keep him strapped into anything for long (besides, he’ll likely fuss after a while). But this can be a fantastic solution if he complains about seeing in the same view yet again.
6. Alternate toys
If you have play tables, play mats, jumpers and exersaucers, alternate among them rather than having them available at all times. This will help avoid over stimulation and make old toys seem new again.
Pick one “big” toy for him to play with for the week. Then, as you find him getting bored of that toy, store and replace it with another one, cycling through different toys to keep his interest.
7. Carry your baby in a wrap or carrier
Baby wraps keep your baby close to you (which he loves!) while freeing your hands to do other tasks.
You might also use this opportunity to talk to him about what you’re doing—he’ll love hearing your voice! Plus, describing what you’re doing gives you something to do and say, no matter how small or simple the topic may be.
8. Blow bubbles
Babies love watching bubbles! Keep a few bottles at home and blow them toward your baby. No matter the age, kids still get a kick out of seeing bubbles form and pop in the air. Battery-operated bubble toys are also fun and convenient.
9. Expose your baby to patterns
Patterns fascinate babies, especially newborns. I’d often place my babies in front of our vertical blinds with the window open to let the wind blow the blinds side to side. They’d watch as the lines crossed and swayed back and forth, while slits of sunlight would peek through.
Your baby might also like watching ceiling fans as mine did. Keep the setting on low, and he’ll likely stay mesmerized by the movement of the blades. And read him books with plenty of patterns, especially bold and bright colors. A few suggestions include:
- Art for Baby
- Spots and Dots by Chez Picthall
- Look, Look! by Peter Linenthal
- Baby Animals Black and White by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes
- Elmer by David McKee
10. Play in the backyard
Being out in nature is one of the best activities for your baby. The fresh air and sounds of the outdoors is refreshing, not to mention the different sights he’ll see. Even something as simple as watching the patterns of the leaves swaying back and forth is enough to entertain.
This is also a good opportunity to practice tummy time, especially with all the things to see and touch at the park. Let him grab the grass in a fist, or gaze at the clouds floating in the sky.
How to cope with a baby who constantly needs to be entertained
With a baby in tow, you can’t exactly read a book for hours or clean your home the way you used to, especially when he needs to be entertained. As normal as it is for him to be attached, playing with him all the time isn’t sustainable.
Instead, promote independent play as well—because however normal it is for him to fuss, playing him all the time is simply not sustainable. Take a look at these ways to encourage him to entertain himself:
1. Gradually wean your baby away from your lap
Up to this point, your baby isn’t used to being alone, so much so that he gets upset if you so much as leave for a second. To help him understand that he’s safe and that you’ll come back, gradually introduce the concept of playing alone.
First, sit with him on your lap. Then, lay him on the ground next to you with toys nearby.
If he cries, show empathy: “You look upset. Mama’s right here, love.” Comfort him by rubbing his belly or stroking his head. If he continues to cry, pick him up and place his back on your lap. Don’t feel upset or frustrated—remember, this is all new to him.
Do this a few times until he reaches a point where he’s fine being out of your lap or arms. If he’s okay lying on the ground, sit a few feet away. Let him know you’re still nearby by either talking or singing to him.
Any time he cries, reassure him and, if need be, go back to holding him in your lap or sitting next to him.
Then, if he’s comfortable with you sitting a few feet away, place a few toys and books around him and walk around the room. Talk, sing and let him know you’re still nearby.
2. Step away a little at a time
You may not be able to plop your baby in front of toys and expect him to play for 45 minutes. Instead, break the ties a little at a time.
Need to stand up to grab a burp cloth? Do so, without feeling obligated to carry him with you. Don’t feel guilty because you had to set him down to get his milk for a second. You need to do a few things even if he wants your attention.
He might cry, but these little breaks and separations will let him know you’ll always come back.
After all, only in not entertaining him all the time will he learn how to play without you next to him. Make it normal and casual—don’t make a big deal out of it. He’ll know that you stepping away for a second isn’t something to be afraid of.
3. Use opportune moments to step away
I noticed that the half hour or so after my twins would wake up was when they were most focused on independent play. Something about being in their cribs for a long time made them want to explore and play once they got out.
During that time, I tended to my eldest, washed their bottles and did what I needed to do before engaging with them. This was the time when they were honing their focusing skills. Even when I wanted to play with them, they preferred being on their own!
Catch the moments when your baby seems likely to want to play on his own. What times of the day is he most eager to explore? When have you seen him occupied with something other than you? You’ll have a better chance at stepping away when he’s already engaging in another activity.
4. Engage with your baby during daily activities
Do you keep quiet while you feed your baby? How about bath time—do you prefer watching him splash instead of talking? You might be missing out on perfect opportunities to engage and “fill” his bucket.
Tell him how you’re pulling out a new diaper to change him into, describe what you’re feeding him, and explain the stories you’re reading. Show positive engagement during “basic maintenance.”
Why? You’re giving him attention during a time when you already “have” to be with him. You’re filling his bucket so he’ll feel more confident branching out on his own later.
Of course, you can talk to him any time, but engaging when you’re together anyway will give you a chance to help him play by himself.
And make the time you spend with him count. Babies cling for various reasons, including a genuine need for quality attention. Do you do too many chores around the house without giving him attention? Consider doing them instead during nap and bedtimes (when you’ll do a better job anyway).
He also might cry when you leave his sight because he doesn’t know whether you’ll come back.
After all, he has a limited concept of time. Sometimes you leave for a few seconds to grab his bottle, while other times you’re away for several hours on an errand. He can’t tell one from the other, or worse, worries whether you’ll come back at all.
How to combat this fear? Play object permanence games such as peek-a-boo. Cover his face with a cloth before revealing in a delighted way that mommy is still right here.
Play the game using items, too. Place a toy under a blanket and pretend to look for it. “Where did teddy go?” you might ask with a big smile on your face. Then pull the blanket for the big reveal.
Just because he can’t see you doesn’t mean you’re gone (maybe you’re in the next room or even a few feet away). And he’ll also learn you’ll come back no matter what, like how you do during a game of peek-a-boo.
5. Use survival tools
Sometimes you need survival tools so you can run to the bathroom or give your arms a break. While these don’t “teach” your baby to entertain himself, they can give you the break you need.
- Place him in a high chair or bouncy seat where he can still see you.
- Provide him with toys while you tend to household tasks. I keep alphabet magnets next to my kitchen when I need to prepare meals.
- Use a baby carrier. Baby carriers will let you “hold” him while leaving your hands free.
- Make it a game. When a baby was crying because I’ve stepped away to another room, I’d pop my head back out and say, “peek a boo!”
Although I shared many of my favorite ways to entertain your baby, I’d like to leave you with a final thought: Don’t feel like you need to always entertain your baby.
Like you and me, your baby needs a balance of entertainment and alone time. Don’t feel pressured to enrich his brain with activities galore (it’s already doing that without you needing to do anything!).
Activities can also overstimulate him—his crankiness may not be a sign of boredom, but of over-stimulation. Constant entertainment can interrupt the rest and processing he needs as well.
With gradual weaning, connecting, and making it fun, you can help him vary his sources of entertainment—and not rely only on you.
Get more tips:
- How to Get Things Done with a Baby
- How to Manage Being Alone with Baby
- Are You Balancing Your Children’s Needs Fairly?
- What Having a “Spoiled Baby” Really Means
- What You Need to Know About Separation Anxiety
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and discover the 5 mistakes that are keeping your baby from self-soothing! Whether you’ve tried to teach your baby to self soothe in the past or are just now considering it, take a look at the 5 key mistakes to avoid. Download your PDF below: