Setting up your toddler’s world for independence

Is there anything cooler than doing something, “all by yourself”? Not if you’re a toddler, there isn’t. Baby is at the age where putting on his own socks and shoes is a little bit like climbing a mountain – made possible by a combination of a lot of skills and training that he’s been working towards his whole life, and when he’s done it successfully, he wants a cookie.

The best way to help keep that proud smile on Baby’s face that he gets when he’s done something all on his own is to make sure he has plenty of chances not just to try new things, but to use the skills he already has regularly.

Preparing your home for Baby

Baby may know how to do (or want to try to do!) all kinds of things, but that doesn’t mean things won’t get messy for a while as he masters his new skills. The sooner he gets started, the sooner he can get better, though, and there are a few ways you can alter the set-up of your home to make it an easier launch-pad for Baby’s growing set of skills.

For starters, it can be helpful to sit down with your partner, or any other caregivers, and think about any jobs Baby could start to do with a little bit less help from you, either now or soon. This might include anything from washing his own hands before meals to having him bring lightweight, plastic plates and napkins to the dinner table for you. When you’re coming up with jobs Baby might be able to start to do for themselves, there’s no need to get him started right away – instead, you can look ahead a little bit, and start to get your home ready for when he can.

  • Get Baby on your level: Solid, wide-stepped step-stools can be a great way to give Baby the chance to reach what he needs, instead of waiting for a boost from you.
  • Set out supplies: If there are certain materials Baby could use on his own, like a box of cereal and a plastic or metal bowl so that he can grab a snack on his own, setting up one or two low cabinets filled with things you don’t mind Baby being able to get his hands on can give him the chance to start to make a few more choices about his day.
  • Dress for success: As Baby starts to get better at helping you get him dressed and undressed, try to buy clothes that will be easy for him to learn to put on, instead of more complicated, button- and zipper-involving things that will keep him dependent on your help for longer. You might still be pulling that loose, pullover sweater over his head now, but tomorrow, he could be doing it all by themselves! Many pairs of pants made for children around this age have elastic waistbands for easy pulling-up, and velcro can make fastening a jacket closed easier for little fingers. If you do go for something with buttons, clothing with a small number of big buttons that get threaded through big holes are great for practicing.
  • Get time on your side: Build extra time into your schedule for your toddler to do things for themselves – it often will take more time, and doing things for a toddler that he could do for themselves often happens when families are in a hurry. Setting aside that extra time can keep it from becoming an issue too often
  • Make independence a state of mind: Leaving Baby some time for free-play on his own, even if that’s not his favorite thing, can help build his sense of independence in the long term – the ability to amuse themselves will only grow more and more important as he grows.
  • Limit the times you need to say “no”: Hearing “no” too often can be discouraging to Baby’s independent spirit. Making sure his home is as safe as possible cuts down on the number of times you need to tell him, “It’s time to stop,” on a given day. As Baby gets older, it’s easy for toddler-proofing to start to slip, but the truth is that the bigger he gets, the higher he can climb.

Independence isn’t all-or-nothing – you and Baby can ease your way into his growing independence. You don’t need to go from dressing him every day to waiting for him to come out of his room in the morning fully dressed – he can start by pulling his shirt the second half of the way on. Every step Baby takes at this point is a beginning, and he’ll be a whole lot further before you know it.

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