It takes a tremendous amount of hard work by everyone, parent and child, to develop a sense of independence in the toddler years. Simple tasks, such as turning the page when reading a book together, help build your child's self-confidence and as toddlers get older skills such as dressing (putting on socks, shoes, pants, etc.) become important milestones and favorable moments to support budding independence. Here are three tips for building your toddler's independence along the way:
1. Empower your child with choices along the way. Toddlers are notorious for being opinionated to the point of throwing a tantrum over the smallest of details (e.g. cutting a hotdog into small pieces instead of leaving it whole or finding it difficult to stop one task for another). One way to mitigate this behavior and promote a sense of independence is to give simple choices at opportune times. Some periods of the day and activities are more ideal for allowing choice, such as mealtime (e.g. a simple option of water or milk for drink or "would you like cheese on your hamburger or plain?") or allowing your toddler to pick a story or two at bedtime.
2. Include age appropriate chores as part of your daily routine. We're not talking a go at mowing the lawn, our focus is more along the lines of setting the table (at least setting their own place) or taking a break to clean up all the toys before bedtime. Involving your toddler in the day-to-day activities of the house both teaches and models what it mean to be part of a family. These tasks model the expectations of responsibility, even if you have to go back and do a little follow up cleaning after your toddler's efforts.
3. Allow your child to become frustrated. It is difficult to watch your own child struggle. As parents we can be quick to jump in when we hear a whine, toss of a toy, or other demonstration of frustration, but the reality is this is a normal (and important) part of toddler development. We are not suggesting that you let your child needlessly suffer in discontentment, but to simply allow a few moments to explore a possible solution. At the point you interject, utilize coaching skills (such as, "Would you like to talk about something?" I heard you ____ in frustration, is there something you are trying to figure out?") versus simply solving the problem or jumping to give a solution.
Toddlers are famous for saying "NO" and testing limits, making the hard work of teaching independence seemingly impossible at times. Remember to use your best judgement on when it is the right opportunity to emphasize one of these strategies and when there are factors outside your toddler's control (e.g. being overtired or under the weather). Bring preschool teachers, daycare faculty, and extended family on board with your goals for building independence in order to promote consistency in expectation throughout your child's day. Lastly, enjoying the crazy moments of teaching independence - finding occasion for silliness and opportunities to learn from teachable moments.
ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families and design ideas based on our adventures building a home from the ground up.
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