Opportunities to encourage your toddler’s growing sense of independence

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

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

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

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