I Do it Myself, Mommy! Six Ways to Foster Toddler Independence (Without Losing Your Mind)

It’s tempting as parents of toddlers to focus on the hard stuff.

The tantrums.

The messes.

The testing of boundaries and the willful quest for independence.

There’s an unrelenting pressure to meet their needs while at the same time letting them learn solve their own problems. A common refrain from my toddler-parent friends is this: My kid wants to do it on his own, but it’s just so much easier if I do it myself.

I’ve been there too: 7:45 am and the kitchen’s already a disaster. The breakfast table looks like the battle ground of a major food fight. My 3rd grader has misplaced his science book and my middle child is sick. Meanwhile, my toddler is demanding to pick out her own clothes. Have I mentioned that we should have left the house 5 minutes ago?

In times like this it is easier for me to put up with a toddler tantrum to get everyone out the door. Sure, there’s a little kicking and screaming, but we’re rushed. As a busy mom I’ve been trained to see speed and efficiency as the ultimate goal, and it’s a lot less time consuming for me to dress her than for my toddler to dress herself.

But is the daily race to the minivan really an excuse to miss a chance to foster my toddler’s development? With a little planning and forethought, I could have given my 2 year old an opportunity to master a skill and feel proud of herself, meeting a critical developmental need for independence.

It’s no secret that toddlers yearn to to things independently. Not only does it build important problem-solving skills, but doing tasks on their own also boosts self-esteem and a sense of autonomy.

Here are six easy ways to allow your child to do things themselves. What works for you? Leave your tips in the comments!

  • Build more time into your schedule. 1 of 6
    Build more time into your schedule.
    I know, it's easier said than done. Probably about 200 times easier. But adding just 5 minutes to your morning routine will make a big difference. It's important to remember that when toddlers are transitioning from babies to big kids, the most important tool for skill building is time. Practice makes perfect, and they need lots of it!
  • At the table 2 of 6
    At the table
    Self- Feeding skills are a great way to practice not only independence but fine motor skills as well. Give your toddler the right tools- such as this silverware set- and she'll be happily chowing down in no time.
    Photo Credit:
  • Provide opportunities for success 3 of 6
    Provide opportunities for success
    Those lace-up Chuck Taylors are adorable in toddler size, I realize. But by purchasing shoes with velcro straps, you'll save yourself lots of time lacing and tying, and giving your child the tools to put his own shoes on. Same goes for pants with elastic waits and shirts that don't button. Make it easy for them to succeed.
  • Little Helper 4 of 6
    Little Helper
    My daughter loves to help set the table and unload the dishwasher. Sure, it takes a little more time, but it's worth it for her to feel like part of the team. It also sets the expectation early that everyone contributes to the running of our household.
    Photo Credit: Fimb/Flickr
  • Establish a Routine 5 of 6
    Establish a Routine
    She may be too young to clean her entire room, but my daughter can pick up her toys before bed. Toddlers love routine and are happy to help when we give them tasks they're capable of.
    Photo Credit:Abbybatchhelder/Flickr
  • Don’t Do For Them What They Can Do For Themselves 6 of 6
    Don't Do For Them What They Can Do For Themselves
    When it's time to wash your child's hands before a meal, for instance, encourage him to do it himself, with your supervision. Or when you're leaving the house, hand your child his coat and see if he's capable of putting it on by himself- he might just surprise you! In this time of toddler transition, we need to give our kiddos as many opportunities for independence-building as possible...even if it requires some extra time. In the end it's worth it.

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago
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