Toddlers are endlessly curious, and are beginning to understand the world around them. As the parent of a toddler, you are familiar with your child’s burgeoning sense of independence. They want to do everything on their own, and sometimes it can seem like protests are endless. However, the independence skills your child learns as a toddler will set the foundation for their future life. Here are some helpful things you should know about toddler independence.
Independence starts from a secure environment
Adults know that trying new things means taking risks – which can also mean making mistakes. As a parent, you can give your toddler a secure environment where they can expand their horizons and take risks that will not be harmful. Telling your child “no” every time they try to touch or do something dangerous can have a negative effect on their confidence, and is stressful for you. Instead, ensure that the home is as toddler-proofed as possible, so that your child can freely indulge their curiosity without risk of serious injury.
Non-negotiable rules should be clear
Toddlers testing out their independence will also try to bend or break rules. However, as a parent you know there are rules that are non-negotiable, such as holding your hand when your child crosses the street and not eating or drinking anything new without asking you first. Ensure that you remind your child of these non-negotiable rules and consistently enforce them. Explain to your child that these rules are in place to keep them safe. This way, they can better understand why some rules exist, and will find the all-important structure they need to build confidence and autonomy.
Choosing between limited options will keep you in control
Giving your toddler freedom to make some choices is a good way for them to practice independence. However, it’s important to narrow down the options available to your child, to prevent them from becoming overwhelmed. For example, when getting dressed in the morning, you can ask, “Do you want to wear your blue shirt or your green shirt today?” In helping your toddler exert their independence, be patient and maintain a sense of humor.
Allowing your child to experience consequences will help them grow
Understanding cause and effect is a critical component of healthy independence. However, toddlers are often too excited about a new experience to think things through, or sometimes they don’t yet know what the consequences of their actions could be. Having conversations with your toddler about these concepts can help, but sometimes there is no substitute for a hands-on experience. If your toddler insists on trying to eat their crackers with a with a fork instead of their hands, they’ll soon figure out why it doesn’t work. Sometimes, letting your child experiment and make their own mistakes is more beneficial to their development then stopping them before it happens.
Toddlers thrive on praise – even if they don’t get it right
Even if your toddler doesn’t achieve their desired result with what they’re trying to accomplish, your praise will give them a sense of confidence and pride. In the earlier example of trying to eat crackers with a fork, telling your child that it won’t work can make them feel insecure and unwilling to try new things. But saying something like, “That’s a fun way to eat crackers!” will make the situation fun, and signal that you approve of them doing things on their own. This will help your child feel confident about trying more new things in the future.
Confidence, curiosity, and problem-solving skills are the foundation of successful independence. Toddlers are growing, and beginning to show interest in their own individuality. It can seem scary to parents, but finding small, safe ways for your child to assert their independence can help them to become successful later in life.