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Toddler Independence

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Why is Toddler Independence Important? 

One of the best gifts you can give your young child is the gift of independence. There are so many things that can contribute to this independence and most of them are from you. A young child’s opinions about his capabilities are mostly based on his parent’s response to him.

Your role in fostering independence in your child is to ensure your child enjoys good self esteem, while you provide love and support, you encourage exploration and curiosity, you teach him skills and you allow your child to make appropriate choices. It is a pretty big responsibility resting on your shoulders but if you are interested enough to be reading this article, then you are already on the right track!

From an early age, your child’s search for independence is fueled by a desire to make things happen. And sometimes this desire might take your child down a path that requires limit setting by you otherwise they might become frustrated while trying to master a certain task. You need to keep an eye so that while a small dose of frustration and even some mistakes along the way can be acceptable for your young child, he should not become overwhelmed with too great a feeling of frustration. Love and encouragement will help him along.

Table of contents:

Independence in a Baby 

If we start right from the very beginning, we know that a young baby is wholly dependent on his parents. However, even at an early age you can allow your child to develop some coping skills and independence. For example:

  • Provide lots of tummy time for your baby when he is awake.
  • When you are playing together, allow your baby to reach for toys that are just out of reach.
  • Put your child in his crib while he is still awake so he learns to fall asleep on his own.

If you are a single parent, you may be even more inclined to feel that you must “do it all” for your child but that just is not always possible. Please do not feel guilty about this but rather focus on the opportunity that exists for your child to develop a healthy sense of independence, as well as the essential skills that he will need to succeed in life.

Independence in a Toddler

When your child reaches the toddler stage, you will find that he is really starting to fight for his newly found independence. This is when we hear the word “no” so often! But this is a good sign! A safe environment is paramount once toddlers are mobile. They have little or no judgment concerning their own safety so you have to ensure they can explore and experiment in safe surroundings. To promote your toddler’s growing independence, you can:

  • Allow him to choose some meals and snacks whenever possible.
  • Give him the choice about which story to read or which song to sing.
  • Provide age-appropriate toys so that he can learn to play by himself for short periods of time.
  • Allow him to have a say in which clothes he will wear each day, even if this is limited to basic color selection.
  • Provide a step-stool so that your toddler can reach the bathroom sink.

Independence in the Preschooler

Then when your child gets to the preschool stage, you can really start to make the most of your child’s burgeoning independence. Preschoolers are verbally capable of expressing many thoughts, feelings and needs, and they are ready to take bigger steps towards independence. For example, you can:

  • Allow him to pick out his own clothes and to dress himself.

  • Be patient when your child keeps trying different outfits. This is a definite expression of independence

  • Follow your child’s lead as to when you should begin potty-training. Learning to do it all on his own is a big step.

  • Your child will have a set routine at preschool for different activities such as cleaning up, washing before meals etc. If you use the same routine at home, your child will learn responsibility about caring for and putting away his toys or other belongings.

  • Provide lots of learning opportunities throughout the day.

  • Establish family chores such as setting the table, folding towels or helping with meal preparation. This builds a sense of competence and teaches young children how to do things for others.

  • Teach your child how to introduce himself to new friends.

Along with the whole growing independence of your child comes another ability and that is self-regulation. This is that magic moment when your child actually follows directions and is an important milestone and can occur anywhere between the ages of one and three. However it does not happen overnight but is a skill that grows over time. Along with encouraging your young child’s growing independence, you can help your child to self regulate by using the following tips:

  • Create situations where your child can explore without hearing lots of “don'ts’

  • Praise your child often when he does something right. In other words “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”

  • Help your child as he learns to do chores like picking up toys. Make tasks as much fun as possible.

Although as a family you need to establish limits and maintain firm rules about the really important issues especially in matters of safety, try to honor your child’s choices wherever possible. You are helping him to gain control over his world, his future and to prepare him for a healthy, independent life ahead.

Additional Toddler Training Tips and Behavioral Lessons

Keep him in the picture

Although toddlers are starting to understand what you say to them, they become anxious when they don’t know what’s coming next so one of the best ways to diffuse potential problems is to let them know what lies ahead. He will understand more than you think

Be consistent and firm

Try to stick to the same routine and he will be more accepting. If he gets away with something one time, he will try to get away with it every time so you have to be firm.

Avoid bargaining

If your toddler starts a temper tantrum, try to avoid bargaining. So don’t offer to give him something if he stops the tantrum. Be firm.

Your toddler has feelings too

But he cannot always express them. This may be when he resorts to temper tantrums.

Those temper tantrums

If you toddler has a temper tantrum then leave the room as he will soon stop if there is no one there to witness the tantrum.

Watch out for tantrum triggers

You will learn to know what triggers a tantrum such as boredom, frustration or even hunger. Be around so that you can step in before he even reaches the stage of throwing a tantrum. There may even be facial expressions or body language which could alert you to the onset of a tantrum.

Keep up the hugs and cuddles

Even though he is growing up fast, your toddler still likes to be babied from time to time. Take time to cuddle him, to play with him and to listen to him.

Channeling frustration

Your toddler may well have an emotional outburst when he is frustrated. You can help him with support and comfort while offering to show him how something is done.

Create a positive rather than a negative environment

And that means having a home that is child friendly with toys and activities at his level and if possible access to somewhere he can run and jump and shout. If he has plenty to do and explore, he is less likely to want those things that belong to other members of the family.

Predict trouble ahead

If you know a particular place or activity is going to make your toddler very excitable, try to avoid it in the first place.

Choose soothing activities

Sometimes you need to help your toddler to wind down especially when you can see that he is starting to get very boisterous. Find an activity that involves water or other activities that have a calming effect such as finger painting, play dough or sand.

Reward good behavior but don’t punish bad behavior

When your toddler gets praise and attention for the good things he does, he is less likely to do the naughty things especially if you manage to ignore them.

Don’t expect the impossible

Give your toddler time to do all the things which need to be achieved every day – he is not an adult and cannot be expected to keep up with your pace. He needs extra time to cope with change and too may people and too much noise may well overwhelm him. You need to make allowances for this.

Be careful not to label

Always use positive labels when discussing your toddler with others and they will see him in a positive light too! Focusing on your child’s positive traits will change how you think and how your toddler behaves.

Don’t let meals become a battlefield

Toddlers have a natural ability to sense when they are hungry and when they are full so if you insist on something being finished, you are actually overriding this natural ability – even leading to future eating disorders and weight problems. Toddlers have small stomachs so everything your toddler eats should count towards his daily nutritional requirement. A good routine to follow is to offer breakfast, lunch and supper with a healthy snack mid morning and another mid afternoon.

Your toddler needs to run free

Exposing your toddler to the fun of exercise sets him up for a life of enjoying physical exercise. Apart from the health benefits, he will use up lots of his energy in the best possible way.

Encouraging independence

You will be promoting your toddler’s growing independence if you ensure he can explore and experiment in safe surroundings and if you allow him to make simple choices whenever the opportunity arises.

You are important too

Many mothers find the toddler years to be more tiring than a new baby. So make sure that you are eating and drinking healthily, getting sufficient sleep and rest and having some time just for yourself. If someone offers to look after your toddler for an hour or two to give you a break, then make sure you agree.

Take advantage of a support system

If friends and family are around, let them help you give your toddler plenty of new experiences. Outside of the home, play groups and classes and activities will all give you a bit of a break and provide extra stimulation and interest for your toddler.

You have a great adult in the making

Your toddler is like a sponge – everything you put in will be retained and squeezed out again at a later date! There are no guarantees of course but you have the chance to do your very best to produce a wonderful adult in years to come. Don’t let him down.