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Before becoming a mom, I knew the job was demanding. However, I never thought the toddler phase would be more of a challenge than the infant phase. When they are infants you can just lay them down somewhere and they stay put. Now, I’m lucky if I can go to the bathroom without an audience. Around age 2 I started to notice that I was still doing an awful lot for Sophie regardless if she was able to do it herself, usually for the sake of time. Because seriously, why does it need to take so long to clean up your plate from breakfast or get your shoes from the shoe basket?? I don’t know about you but I feel like I’m just late to life now that I’m a mom and if I can shave a couple of minutes off getting out the door by doing things for Sophie, why not? Well, that started to turn into me asking Sophie to clean up her plate or get undressed for a bath and getting the “I can’t, you help me?” line back. Plus she was almost never able to play independently. I have no desire to consistently do things for my child. Girl needed some independence. But how do you teach your toddler independence?
Enter these 6 tips for teaching independence!
- Stop doing everything for your toddler. This is the simplest way to start teaching independence. To start, it works best when your kiddo wants something from you, like a snack. If it’s available to them, tell them to get it themselves. You are more likely to have success if you start with your toddler wanting something from you. I know if I started teaching independence by not brushing Sophie’s hair, we would still be in the same boat, with really messy toddler hair. But, we started with something she saw as fun and wanted to try by herself, getting her own snack, and we had success from the start.
- Tell, don’t ask, your toddler to do something. I’ve found this technique works really well for getting Sophie to do something. Instead of asking her if she needs to or wants to go potty. I tell her to go potty. I’ve found if I ask her to do something, like go potty, she feels she has a choice. In these instances, I don’t want her to feel that way. I can still be polite by saying, “Go potty please” however, this is a direction not a question and she is more likely to do it herself without assistance.
- Tell me, Show me, Involve me. Modeling, which is the act of showing someone how to do something, is a fantastic why to teach independence to your toddler. Understand that everyone, even toddlers, have a learning style. Some learn best by listening to instructions, some by seeing you do something, and some by doing something themselves. People tend to teach skills in the way they learn best because it’s what is most comfortable to them. Tell me, show me, involve me covers all three. As the name implies, you will tell your toddler how to do something, then show them, and finally do it with them. I used this technique with Sophie when I was teaching her to undress herself. I told her how to take her shirt off, then showed her myself, and finally, I did it with her.
- Let your toddler fail, just a little. There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting your child fail. In fact, it is totally healthy. How else will they learn to problem solve if they don’t have an actual problem to solve. This can be hard for us as moms though because we don’t like seeing our child frustrated or it’s just easier and more time efficient to help them out. Sophie hasn’t learned how to put on her shoes by herself yet but I still insist that she try. Sometimes she gets lucky and gets a shoe on and she is so proud of herself. Just like adults, once we finally achieve something we have been trying, it’s a very satisfying feeling. We want to feel it again, so we achieve that skill again. Pretty soon, it’s just routine and comes naturally.The trick with letting your toddler fail is to let them fail just a little in the beginning. Try to catch them before they enter full on frustrated/tantrum mode. This might be 1 minute or 3. They are still learning. Intervene and help before the meltdown and talk through the problem together. If they are trying to put their shoes on but didn’t loosen the velcro straps say something like, “This might be the problem, we forgot to loosen up the straps first. This makes more room for our foot. Let’s try it now.” You are not only modeling the correct way to put on a shoe, you are also show your toddler how to work through a problem.
- Let your toddler help. First off, I’ll clear this up right up front. Most of the time, this won’t be real help. This will be toddler help. Which means whatever you are doing will take longer. BUT… this is the beginning of teaching your toddler to do things independently later on. I let Sophie help me take dinner some nights. I’ll cut the veggies and slide them off the cutting board and she will place them in the bowl or wash each green bean individually. Again, not time efficient but she is learning and will be able to do things independently later on. When I sweep, I let her go behind me with the vacuum and get the little piles. Toddlers love to help and it makes them so proud when they accomplish a job with you. Make a big deal about it and they get even more out of it.
- Give your toddler more freedom. Let your kiddo pick out their own clothes, dress/undress themselves, put their plate in the sink, put the leftover milk up into the fridge, wash themselves in the bath, brush their own teeth. Who cares if they look like a cross between a unicorn and a princess. They can’t learn independence if mom or dad is consistently doing things for them. To avoid the “I can’t” line from Sophie. I would tell her (not ask) to put on her clothes and then I walk away. If I’m not there to “I can’t” to, I found she is more likely to attempt the skill herself. Again, even if she fails, at least she tried. If I don’t want a cross dress unicorn princess. I choose two or three appropriate outfits then let her pick from those.This technique also came in handy for brushing her teeth at bedtime. It used to be a struggle because she wanted to turn it into a game and often turned into a wet noddle. When I gave her the freedom to get it done herself, not only did it actually get done, she would very proudly come show me her teeth when she was done. I know she wasn’t doing it as well as I would have but who cares. This is how she learns. If I feel she really missed a spot, I can tell her “Hmm, looks like you missed the top teeth, try those again” and she does.
With the help of these 6 points, Sophie has become more independent and now has a desire to do new things for herself. Her new-found independence will come in handy when baby #2 comes along and she wants to do things for herself. Plus, seeing her have success and enjoyment in doing things for herself makes for a proud mommy moment! Like… maybe I’m not totally messing her up for life.
Do you have any other tips for teaching toddlers to be more independent? Leave a comment below and let us know!