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Toddlers are like a species all on their own; they are tiny humans who don’t have control over anything yet, but they want to do everything. It is especially difficult for toddlers to wait on you (the parent/caregiver) to do something for them when they want to do it independently. Maybe it is time to start considering how you can encourage independence in your toddler.
Coming from a mother of an almost two year old and someone who has years of experience teaching the toddler age group, I can tell you just how challenging and fun this age group can be!
There are some big emotions in toddlers which are often the cause of those oh-so-fun meltdowns. On the flip side, toddlers are one of the sweetest, most caring, inquisitive beings out there. They are curious about the world around them and all they want to do is learn more about all of it.
When the weather is nice, I take my toddler on a walk around our neighborhood. I hate to admit this, but I’ve recently caught myself thinking of these walks as a chore and something that needs to be completed in ‘X’ amount of time.
My toddler on the other hand, has taken the time to remind me that these walks are for enjoyment. He literally stops to smell the roses and recognizes all the other fascinating things he finds on our walks that I generally take for granted. His world is so big; it is my job to help him navigate and find the joy in all of it through encouraging his independence.
Why Should You Encourage Independence in Toddlers?
To teach and encourage independence in toddlers can be a tall order to fulfill. In addition to all the other messes toddlers leave around the house, now incorporating more opportunities for a mess is not very appealing. However, you have to start somewhere and children have to learn eventually, right?
When I really started focusing on allowing my toddler more independence, the loads of laundry suddenly doubled (maybe even tripled)! My toddler was going through two to three sets of clothes before lunch time most days when trying to help himself to things that normally I would do for him.
However, I kept strong to my goal of wanting to encourage his independence. As challenging as it was for me to have to keep up with the laundry or change him every hour at first, I knew it would benefit him more to continue to learn than if I just did it all for him all the time.
Independence in toddlers also helps them conquer various development milestones! Independence promotes self-confidence and self-efficacy. It reduces the power struggles that come with toddler-hood. It provides experiences for your toddler to explore with sensory, motor skills, strength and coordination.
Lastly, encouraging independence in toddlers gives you so much to talk about with your toddler throughout the day! This is great for expanding your toddler’s language development.
All around, when you start to encourage independence in toddlers, their world gets that much bigger, brighter, and exciting!
7 Ways to Encourage Independence in Toddlers
1. Let Them Get Their Own Drink
I started allowing my toddler to get his own water from the refrigerator water spout. Each day, I left a small cup on the counter that he could reach. Additionally, we practiced taking out his step stool and placing it in front of the fridge so that he could step up to fill his cup.
When he realized he could now get his own water without my help, he was the happiest child! As you can guess, this has been the messiest part of the independence learning. There were several instances of him overfilling the cup, spilling the water as he brought the cup down from the perch of the water spout, and/or missing the cup entirely and streaming water down the front of the fridge.
This was an inevitable outcome that I had anticipated. I made sure to have dry changes of clothes readily available. It took us a good couple of weeks for him to learn how much he needed to fill the cup to understand not to overfill it or make it spill when he moved the cup.
There were times when I needed to lock the settings on the water spout so that he wouldn’t have access to the water anymore. Let’s be real, I was as encouraging as I could be. However, Mama has her limitations sometimes and throwing a dozen hand towels and outfits into the washer was my cutoff.
Overall, this has been a fun experience for him! My toddler loves helping everyone else in the house get their water cups filled. He is so proud of himself for being able to do this task and it’s one less thing I *usually* have to do for him now. He can meet his own needs here!
2. Dedicate a Drawer or Cupboard for Them
We had a play date at a friend’s house recently. I saw how she had a lower cabinet available for her son to access. This cabinet had snacks and bowls inside of it so her son could grab a snack out that he desired to have.
Sure, she had to help him at times to take the lid off of a container or to pour something out for him. However, this concept she had implemented made him feel confident that he would be able to express to her what he needed at that moment. There were no guessing games or meltdowns; he simply grabbed the snack he wanted and that was that.
After seeing this idea, it got me thinking of incorporating such a cabinet for my son in our own home. Simple snacks like cheerios in a zip lock bag, fruit pouches, and/or juice boxes would be great for him to have access to.
Of course, there is the consideration that he will just be snacking all day or have to be told he can’t have something because it is dinner time, lunch time, etc. However, learning boundaries in this area is a sure way for him to begin to understand that there are limitations to his freedoms.
3. Walk Instead of Using the Stroller
It can be so much easier to strap my toddler into the stroller and take him for a neighborhood walk. There are days when I do consider this route.
However, having my son walk alongside of me instead encourages independence and trust within his own body. He trusts that I am there to keep him safe (even if he does run out of my grasp). There are ways that I implement safety structures with him so that I can prevent him from reaching dangerous situations.
Additionally, having him walk not only gets his energy out, but it also helps him to build those large muscles. He is able to explore his body’s abilities and limitations. He can learn new ways of getting around such as walking backwards or attempting to skip.
My son also learns about nature during our walks. He has his own observations of the bugs crawling on the sidewalk or the butterflies fluttering in and out of flowers. He is in control of his learning and looks to me to expand on his experiences.
4. Carry Their Own Diaper Bag with Essentials
Those early infant days were filled with overloaded diaper bags for us. I could never be without an abundance of essentials. Nowadays, things are different!
Toddlers still need some kind of bag to carry diapers/wipes and extra clothes in. Even if your toddler is potty trained, having extra clothes is best practice in case of accidents.
For our outings, my toddler carries his own essentials. We purchased a small Mickey Mouse backpack just right for his size. We load it up with the few necessities (he also insists on bringing a book or two). Then, he is responsible for carrying around his belongings.
Of course, there are times when the bag is too heavy or he has carried it on his back long enough so we step in and take it for him. Overall though, he learns that Mommy has her purse and he has his backpack. He loves to be included in everything Mommy does!
5. Let Them Help You
After some grocery shopping, we task my toddler with helping us bring in the groceries. We give him something light to carry in like the toilet paper rolls or the bread. He has this “big boy” walk when he follows us into the house with the groceries in hand. He waits patiently for us to take the item from him and put it away.
Additionally, I allow my toddler to help me put away the dishes from the dishwasher. Of course, I take out the utensil rack first that contains all the sharp objects. Then he starts handing me the dishes and I dry them off to be put away. If a dish or Tupperware items goes into a lower cabinet that he can reach, I’ll encourage him to put that item away on his own.
There are various tasks your toddler can help you with around the house. Get them involved!
6. Have Them Clean Their Own Mess
Encouraging toddlers that they need to clean up after themselves is a big step in independence. It also shows them how to take responsibility for their actions.
When I was teaching my toddler to get his own water and there was a spill, I would have him help me clean it up with a dish towel. Now when he spills something, he knows where to get a dish towel or paper towel to wipe up his mess.
Additionally, putting away their own toys is helpful for you so that you’re not having to clean up after them by yourself. Encourage your toddler to put their toys and books back where they belong after they have finished playing with them.
7. Praise Them When They Do Something Like a “Big Boy/Girl”
I am a mom who definitely gives much praise to my son (reasonably). I want to show him that he can do things without me. He has the ability to think about solving a problem. Surely, I will miss those dependent days as he gets older. *sniff, sniff*
When my son completes any of the above mentioned tasks, I praise him or I simply thank him for helping. Either method works and he feels like he has contributed to the outcome. I tell him how he is such a big boy for helping Mommy. He smiles and usually gives me a hug or a high-five. Of all the rewards I can get in the day, my son’s smile is the best gift ever!
Some Parental Encouragement
On days that are hard, I know how draining it is to do all the things with your toddler. We all want to encourage independence in toddlers, but some days are just more challenging than others. Just take it one day at a time!
You are raising a little human and there is so much time and energy that goes into that. Give yourself some grace and know that it is okay to have hard days. That’s part of parenthood; we will get through it!
How Do You Encourage Independence in Toddlers?
What methods have you used to help your toddlers learn independence? Have any of the above mentioned methods helped you? What is your funniest toddler story? Let me know in the comments below and share this with others to help make their life with toddler(s) somewhat easier! 🙂
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