Great Ways to Encourage Your Toddler’s Independence

The toddler years are filled with many challenges for parents, and one of the toughest to deal with is often your toddler’s newfound sense of independence. The more a toddler grows, learns and accomplishes, the more he will develop his own opinions and a desire to do things his own way. While parents want to encourage self-sufficiency, toddlers are not always quite as ready for the world as they may think.

I Can Do It by Myself!

You might start to hear this phrase, or something quite similar, a lot from your toddler. Learning to do things for yourself is an important part of development, but toddlers are unable to understand the difference between what they can successfully (and safely) do without help, and what they still need assistance to accomplish.

Avoid the meltdown that will surely follow a flat out denial by trying to find some small portion of the task that is more manageable. Does your little one want to pour his own milk from a heavy jug? Suggest that he hold the cup steady on the table for you while you pour. Does he want to climb in and out of the tub on his own? Explain that the tub is slippery and you don’t want him to fall, but allow him to step in and out while holding onto you for support, rather than lifting him in and out. Small concessions will allow toddlers to feel they are doing things on their own, while still keeping it under control.

Learning Responsibility

Toddlers aren’t too young to have a few jobs around the house, and giving them tasks to accomplish will encourage independence and teach responsibility too. There are plenty of simple tasks a child as young as two can handle. Have your toddler carry his own dishes from the table to the sink. Teach him to throw his own clothes into the laundry hamper. If you have a family pet, make feeding the pet together a daily routine. Tasks like these will not only help your toddler feel like a big kid, they will also make him feel like he is an important part of the family.

Offering Choices

One of the most common ways toddlers assert their independence is through food, clothing and activities. A child who previously ate everything set in front of her will suddenly become a picky eater. She might refuse to wear her coat or shoes, and express strong opinions about the rest of her wardrobe as well. Convincing her to take a bath or get in the car takes a monumental effort. All of these things are common results of a toddler’s desire to gain some control over her environment.

Fortunately, many toddlers will respond to being offered a choice. It gives a feeling of control, and prevents power struggles. Keep the options to only a few, however, to prevent the decision making process from taking all day! Lay out two possible outfits for the day, and let your toddler choose between them. Before you make lunch, ask if she would prefer grilled cheese or chicken noodle soup. Taking a bath may not be optional, but you can still let your toddler feel she is involved in the decision making process by asking her if she would like bubbles or no bubbles, the blue towel or the red. The same goes for getting an unwilling toddler out the door. You could offer a choice of toys to take on the ride, or a choice of snacks to bring along.

It takes a little creativity and some understanding of what is going on in your toddler’s mind to find solutions that both allow your toddler to gain independence as well as keep parents sane. Remember that giving a little can go a long way, and you will be teaching your little one to make wise choices, recognize her limits, and also take on a little responsibility!

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