It wasn’t too long into toddlerhood before my son started the “I DO IT!” phase. You know, the one where you try to put on his shoe and he screams, “I DO IT!” and ten minutes later, you’re internally cursing every shoe that isn’t a Croc? Or where he’s turning into a puddle of mush at your feet at bedtime over tooth brushing, and he’s trying to grab it out of your hand, and you know that one of your jobs as a mother is to prevent cavities?
Sometimes I get frustrated, but then I remember this sage piece of motherhood advice I received—to give your toddler controlled choices as a way to encourage his independence.
Scenario 1: You put down a cup of orange juice in front of your toddler at breakfast and he loses his mind that it’s not apple juice. Hello, tantrum city.
Scenario 2: You ask, “What would you like to drink?” He asks for apple juice. But you only have milk, orange juice, and fruit punch. Hello, tantrum city!
Scenario 3: You ask, “Would you like apple juice or orange juice?” He chooses apple. No tantrums, he feels in control, but you controlled what he chose. Well done, mom!
Here are 9 other ways to easily encourage toddler independence:
Is your toddler itching for independence? 1 of 10
Click through to find out how you can encourage this quality in your toddler.
Let her brush first. 2 of 10
Put the dab of toothpaste on the brush and hand it to her. Yep, she'll do a terrible job for a while. She'll chew on the brush more than scrub and there's a solid chance she'll swallow most of the paste. But she's doing it on her own! Of course, you'll want to take over the brush after a minute or two and give the teeth a solid scrub.
Keep it simple, mom. 3 of 10
I was amazed a few weeks ago when my preschooler put on his shoes all by himself. They're velcro, so there are no laces to tie. But guess what? It works for me, too! He puts on his shoes while I load the car with the day's lunches and school bags, and it's one less thing I have to do. The key is to pick clothing he can manage himself—pants with snaps instead of buttons, shoes with velcro instead of laces, etc.
Bath or shower? 4 of 10
One of my son's favorite choices is one he makes every night. Bath or shower? It doesn't matter to me which one he picks, he gets clean either way, and he feels mighty big by getting to make that choice for himself. It's also cut down drastically on bed time tantrums since he feels control over the bathing portion.
Encourage the bookworm. 5 of 10
Let her pick the bedtime story. Sure, you might be tired of hearing Chicka Chicka Boom Boom for the fourth night in a row, but it gives her a sense of control and independence when she's able to make that decision.
Does it really matter what she’s wearing? 6 of 10
Okay. Deep breaths, mom. But as long as she's dressed appropriately for the weather and society, does it really matter what she's wearing? Will it hurt if she's wearing plaid and stripes? (I mean, other than your eyes.) Will it cause a tear in the forces of nature if she wears leg warmers over jeggings? Probably not. If you're really picky about how your munchkin is dressed, lay out 2-3 choices every morning that you're okay with and then let her pick one of the choices.
Give him some control over food. 7 of 10
SOME. No, your three-year-old should not be planning dinner for the entire family. But if you have both peas and green beans on hand for dinner, let him pick the vegetable. He'll be more likely to eat it, meaning veggies for him and sanity for you.
Let her pick an activity. 8 of 10
I think a GREAT way for a toddler and preschooler to show independence is extra-curricular activity. Let her pick to dance or play soccer and watch her flourish with her peers and coach.
Independent play is… independent. 9 of 10
Let her play outside by herself in a fenced yard in a safe neighborhood with you watching from afar, of course. Let her explore the world without you hovering. Let her do weird things like roll in the leaves and pretend to be a mermaid in the water. It will grow her imagination and her confidence.
Give him the tools and watch him go. 10 of 10
Your kid wants to draw? Super! I like to put down a plastic mat on the table, then lay out coloring supplies—crayons, markers, finger pants, etc. He's free to use and create whatever he likes. (I should probably point out that this is done in old clothes far, far away from carpet.)