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The Fine Art of "Helping" a Toddler

Oh, I love that tongue when he's concentrating!

I watch my son struggle to put his shoes on almost every morning. Either he tries to put them on the wrong feet and they don’t really fit, or he pulls the velcro straps out of their slots and then can’t get them back in, or he gets the heel folded under as he’s putting the shoe on, and then his foot won’t slide into the shoe.

The mom, and the impatience, in me, wants to swoop in and help him. Fix what’s wrong, get his shoes on and move on.

But, I have learned from experience, that is not a very good idea. That kind of helping usually results in a gigantic tantrum. Which, really, just ends up taking more time in the long run.

So, I’m learning a very important lesson in dealing with my son’s “DO IT MYSELF!” stage. It is that “helping” a toddler is a very fine art.

It’s the art of giving them time and space to do things themselves, even if they can’t get it the first time, and even if they get frustrated. Often, they end up working it out on their own, and the look of accomplishment on their face is priceless.

It’s the art of waiting, when they are frustrated and having trouble, until they say, “I can’t do it!”, and then asking very gently, “Can I help you?” And then only helping if their answer is yes. If the answer is no, you need to wait a little bit more.

It’s the art of, once they have given you permission to help, only doing the absolute minimum required to help, and then removing your hands from the situation as quickly as possible, so they can get back to doing it themselves.

This last one is the secret.

In “helping” a toddler who is doing it themselves, the key is really to help as little as possible. And to do it in a way that they don’t even realized that you have helped, and then backing off quickly and giving them the space to finish the task themselves.

And this is the way that you “help” a toddler in the fine art of learning to do things themselves.

Is your toddler in the “DO IT MYSELF!” stage? What have you found is the best way to help them when they really can’t do something themselves?

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