Opportunities to encourage your toddler’s growing sense of independence

When Baby is a couple of decades older, she might express her independent spirit by scaling a mountain range, or parachuting out of an airplane, or singing in public. These days, though, she is more likely to want to show you how independent she is getting by smearing her breakfast all over her face, or taking off her socks and throwing them behind the couch.

Especially once “I can do it myself” enters your toddler’s vocabulary, her growing independence can start to make your job as her parent or caregiver a little harder. It’s an important stage, though, and the better she gets at spreading her wings, the easier looking after her is (eventually!) going to be.

Depending on how adventurous Baby has been feeling lately, encouraging her growing independence might be as simple as making sure she doesn’t crash into anything as she takes flight, but if she is a little bit more cautious, there are a few ways you can encourage her to ruffle a few feathers.

  • Stay close: It might sound contradictory, but staying near to your little bird can help her feel more confident and secure, which, in turn, may make her more likely to explore. Staying pretty close to her at playdates, parks, and other potentially-unfamiliar social situations can help to keep her from getting nervous. If you’re worried that Baby is getting a little clingy, try upping your communication game – telling her where you’re going when you step back from her – even if it’s just to watch from the ground while she explores a toddler-friendly jungle gym – saying explicit, elaborate goodbyes whenever you leave her somewhere, and talking to her 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 her, the more confident she is going to feel.
  • Plan ahead: When Baby starts wanting to do everything themselves, whenever it’s possible, let her. This might mean getting starting getting ready to leave in the morning half an hour early so Baby can struggle her way through pulling her shirt over her head and getting her arms through the arms of her sweater.
  • Harden your heart: It’s hard, watching Baby struggle, especially with things that you could do for her so easily. Struggling, and even getting frustrated and upset as she figures out how to do something, is an important part of her development. Not only will it be helpful for her to master the skills she’s working on, but it’ll also teach her about persistence and perseverance, and leave her feeling happy and proud of themselves when she figures it out.
  • Set the stage: Just like anyone else, Baby can start to get discouraged if she starts to hear “no” too often. If your home is already safely toddler-proofed, she 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 she wants. Giving her limited, reasonable choices, like an option between two specific, weather-appropriate outfits before taking her out into the winter cold, can help her feel in control and respected, without leaving her to the mercy of the elements with only the cape from a Halloween costume to keep her warm.
  • Accept her 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 her feel important and grown-up, and start her thinking about participating in family life by helping out. It also might be the last time in her life that she 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 she grows, and a growing sense of independence now will continue to have an impact on her 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.
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