When Baby is a couple of decades older, he might express his independent spirit by scaling a mountain range, or parachuting out of an airplane, or singing in public. These days, though, he is more likely to want to show you how independent he is getting by smearing his breakfast all over his face, or taking off his socks and throwing them behind the couch.
Especially once “I can do it myself” enters your toddler’s vocabulary, his growing independence can start to make your job as his parent or caregiver a little harder. It’s an important stage, though, and the better he gets at spreading his wings, the easier looking after him is (eventually!) going to be.
Depending on how adventurous Baby has been feeling lately, encouraging his growing independence might be as simple as making sure he doesn’t crash into anything as he takes flight, but if he is a little bit more cautious, there are a few ways you can encourage him to ruffle a few feathers.
- Stay close: It might sound contradictory, but staying near to your little bird can help him feel more confident and secure, which, in turn, may make him more likely to explore. Staying pretty close to him at playdates, parks, and other potentially-unfamiliar social situations can help to keep him from getting nervous. If you’re worried that Baby is getting a little clingy, try upping your communication game – telling him where you’re going when you step back from him – even if it’s just to watch from the ground while he explores a toddler-friendly jungle gym – saying explicit, elaborate goodbyes whenever you leave him somewhere, and talking to him loudly through your absence if you have to go to another part of the house. The more Baby trusts that you’re always there for him, the more confident he is going to feel.
- Plan ahead: When Baby starts wanting to do everything themselves, whenever it’s possible, let him. This might mean getting starting getting ready to leave in the morning half an hour early so Baby can struggle his way through pulling his shirt over his head and getting his arms through the arms of his sweater.
- Harden your heart: It’s hard, watching Baby struggle, especially with things that you could do for him so easily. Struggling, and even getting frustrated and upset as he figures out how to do something, is an important part of his development. Not only will it be helpful for him to master the skills he’s working on, but it’ll also teach him about persistence and perseverance, and leave him feeling happy and proud of themselves when he figures it out.
- Set the stage: Just like anyone else, Baby can start to get discouraged if he starts to hear “no” too often. If your home is already safely toddler-proofed, he should be able to explore at least around the house without hearing too many “no”s.
- Offer a choice: It’s not always possible, or even a good idea, to let Baby do exactly what he wants. Giving him limited, reasonable choices, like an option between two specific, weather-appropriate outfits before taking him out into the winter cold, can help him feel in control and respected, without leaving him to the mercy of the elements with only the cape from a Halloween costume to keep him warm.
- Accept his help: Assigning Baby small, toddler-appropriate tasks around the house, like folding up the washcloths as you fold the rest of the laundry, will help him feel important and grown-up, and start him thinking about participating in family life by helping out. It also might be the last time in his life that he is excited to be assigned chores, so you may as well enjoy it while it lasts!
Confidence and independence are some of the most important gifts you can give Baby as he grows, and a growing sense of independence now will continue to have an impact on him in the years to come.
- Vicki Hoefle. “Seven Tips to Foster Your Toddler’s Growing Independence.” PBS Parents. PBS, October 1 2015. Web.
- “Helping Raise and Independent Toddler.” AskDrSears. AskDrSears.com, 2016. Web.