Many parents can tell you the story of the day the “I do it” monster arrived in their home. Typically somewhere around the age of 2, even the sweetest baby becomes volatile and obstinately independent. While the expression of this newfound determination can be exasperating, a toddler’s independence is actually a vital and exciting developmental phase. Children begin to recognize the separation between themselves and other people as early as six months old. However, it usually isn’t until age two or three that they learn to express those feelings. As a parent, you want to foster your child’s independence while also keeping them safe and yourself sane. Here are a few tips to keep everyone on the same team.
Let Them Try
When your child insists on putting on their shoes, buckling their car seat, and feeding themselves dinner, it’s hard to sit back and observe. As adults, we are hyper-aware of the fact that we could perform these simple tasks more quickly and efficiently than a small child. Still, if you are able to, try to give your child space to tackle these tasks. As long as they are not endangering anyone, allowing your child to explore their limits is healthy and important. Additionally, children learn problem-solving skills when met with frustration. If we do not allow our children to experience frustration and challenges, they miss out on opportunities to grow and learn. And who knows? They may surprise you with new skills.
Narrate Their Experience
A toddler’s independence often develops much faster than their vocabulary. For this reason, they often respond to roadblocks with screaming, throwing, and other physical outbursts. To assist your child through these moments, try narrating or “sportscasting” their experience. For example, if your child is trying to put on shoes and struggling, you may say, “You’re working so hard to put your shoes on. This is a big job.” If your child becomes agitated and begins crying, name their emotions. “You feel frustrated about your shoes. You want to put them on your feet.” Giving your child the language to describe their experiences removes some of their frustration and gives them ownership of their feelings.
Whenever possible, give your child choices about their day. Young children spend a lot of time out of control of their own lives. Choices allow children to assert appropriate control and help them feel included and independent. While a toddler’s independence may not extend as far as he or she would like, giving them a voice in flexible scenarios may help them accept your word when there aren’t options. If you are deciding between the splash pad at Hope Park and feeding the ducks at Bethany Lakes, it may be an opportunity to allow your toddler to make the final call.
Empower Whenever Possible
A family operates best when everyone gives and takes for everyone else. Toddlers are still learning this dynamic and often struggle against any requirement that doesn’t suit their desires. Clearly, no family can orient their entire life around the whims of a small child. And nor should they! At the same time, look for ways you can design your schedule or home to empower your toddler. For example, add a few minutes into your morning routine to let them put on their own shoes or try to buckle their car seat. If possible, put your child’s clothes and books within their reach so they can practice responsibility. Ask your child to participate in family jobs such as setting the table, caring for pets, and cleaning your home. In these ways, you encourage your toddler’s independence in healthy ways.
Toddlerhood is a time of growth and experimentation. Children are practicing using physical skills and learning to express themselves as individuals. While their behaviors can be difficult to navigate, toddlers need loving guidance as they explore their newfound independence. If you are looking for childcare that will support your toddler through all the growth they are experiencing, consider Legacy Academy Frisco. Call or visit for more information.