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My Child Hates Their Playpen! What Do I Do?

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Poppy is a writer living in Japan. She is the mother of a beautiful little boy.

Once your baby learns to roll over and move on their own, you might start thinking about buying them a playpen. A playpen is childproof and provides a safe space where your baby can move around and play without you having to constantly watch them. Playpens are ideal if you need to go to the bathroom or perform some brief chore.

Babies, especially those younger than six months, often struggle when they're left on their own, but it's important that they learn how. BabyWise recommends starting independent playtime when the child is five months old. Even if they are successfully sleep-trained, children may still cry when you put them down, especially if you leave the room. A playpen can have the same effect; your child may begin to associate the playpen with being left by themselves.

Note: Never leave your child alone in the house, even if they're in a playpen.

A playpen is an excellent way for your baby to have somewhere safe to play.

A playpen is an excellent way for your baby to have somewhere safe to play.

How to Get Your Child Used to a Playpen

If your child always cries in the playpen, do the following in the pen:

  • Try going inside it with them.
  • Feed them (if using a bottle or breastfeeding).
  • Change their diaper and get them dressed.
  • Read a book.
  • Play with a toy.

Any other activities you do with your child in the playpen will help them start to make positive associations of the playpen as a happy place where they feel safe. You can even make the playpen a sort of "base" where the baby hangs out when they aren't sleeping or being held.

Leaving Your Child Alone in the Pen

Here are some tips to help you get your child accustomed to playing alone in a playpen for short periods of time.

  • Add some of your child's favorite possessions into the pen, such as blocks or toys they like, but try not to add more than four toys in the pen at once; Simple Lionheart Life and Green Child Magazine say fewer toys are better for your baby's development.
  • Play with your child for a little while to get them engaged in an activity before you let them continue playing alone. This might be playing with a toy, building with blocks, or reading a tear-proof book.
  • Move out of the playpen, but stay in sight.
  • If your child notices you're gone, peek over and say "boo!" "hello!" or "good job!" (or similar encouraging words).
  • Start with five minutes and work your way up (again, this depends on your child's age).

What If My Child Cries When I Put Them Into the Playpen?

If they cry right away, go back to playing and taking care of them inside the pen. Move toys around and encourage your little one to reach for them, roll, or crawl around, exploring the pen. This will help your child understand this is their space, a safe and fun place to play.

Reading to your child in the playpen an help them thnk of it as a fun place.

Reading to your child in the playpen an help them thnk of it as a fun place.

Additional Tips

Here are some more tips:

  • Use the playpen for alone-time when your baby has a full belly and a clean diaper, is fully rested, and has played with a caregiver for a while.
  • Keep the playpen in the same room as you, ideally close enough where you can check on your baby easily.
  • Be patient; babies love being held, so depending on their temperament you might find it's unlikely they can tolerate being alone for more than a couple of minutes.
  • Praise your baby for playing alone.
  • Pick them up before they start crying. This will teach them that you are coming back and they don't have to cry to get your attention.

Keeping the Playpen Safe

Here are some things you should do to ensure the playpen is always a safe place for your child.

  • Frequently clean the pen. Some playpens are machine washable.
  • Ensure it is always free of or sharp objects or choking hazards.
  • Don't leave wipes, blankets, diapers, or other unsafe objects inside.

Safety is the most important thing in your child's playpen. Balls (too big to swallow) and age-appropriate toys are fine (and even ideal).

Independent play is important for your child's development.

Independent play is important for your child's development.

What Kind of Playpen Should I Buy?

If you already have a playpen and your child doesn't seem to like being in it, this article is for you. But if you think your playpen is the source of the problem, maybe you need a new one. There is a huge variety of playpens out there, and the one you choose will depend on the age of your child. Some features of a good playpen include:

  • A round or hexagonal shape (so it isn't easy to tip over).
  • High "walls" (so the child can't climb out of it).
  • Spacious, but not too big for your room.
  • A door so you can easily go in and out.
  • Collapsible and portable.
  • Stable and secure.

A playpen is an excellent way to keep your child safe while you run some errands or take a few minutes to relax. Just remember that the playpen is not an alternative to a caregiver and you should still keep your child in the same room as you at all times. Don't leave your child in the pen for hours at a time, especially if they're upset or uncomfortable.

With the above tips, your little one should get used to their play area fairly quickly, and soon they'll love being inside and having that important independent play.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Poppy