At what age should you start teaching your child to be independent? Well, according to many experts it begins in the toddler years.
For many parents, letting their child, especially their toddler, make their own decisions feels a little scary. Surely at this age they aren’t the best judge of what they should and shouldn’t be doing?
You’ve spent the past couple of years feeding, dressing, bathing and generally taking care of your little one and letting go of that mindset is hard. To you, they will always be your baby, even when they are mid-tantrum, or running around causing havoc, surely there isn’t a lot your toddler can do for themselves anyway? Well, you might just be surprised!
Why Teaching Independence At A Young Age Matters
Studies show that doing too much for your toddler can be detrimental to their development. It can lead to issues with confidence, self-doubt and attachment. Allowing and encouraging them to be a little more independent however, really helps them to grow into more confident, self-aware adults who are more than capable of making their own decisions.
It may not seem like a big deal to you, but small acts of independence can really make all of the difference to your little one. The main thing they’ll develop through independence is confidence. That in turn helps them develop a wide range of skills that will aid them as an adult.
The instinct to protect your little one is always going to be there. It’s natural to want to take charge and protect them against the world. However, if you want your toddler to grow into a healthy, happy adult, it’s important to let them make their own mistakes.
Top Tips To Encourage Independence
So how exactly can you teach your toddler to become more independent? What decisions should they be making right now, and what tasks can help? Let’s look at some of the best things you can do…
Let them explore – Around the age of two, your little one will be in full exploration mode. They are inquisitive and love discovering new things. Letting them explore within your back yard helps to start the independent journey. Of course, you should supervise them as you’re probably already aware by now that toddlers can be very clever! So there’s no guarantee they won’t figure out how to open a gate for example.
The key here is to let them explore without pouncing when you think they may encounter a problem. For example, a little fall is natural and will teach your little one to be careful as they run around. Unless there is a high risk that they could seriously injure themselves, avoid stepping in. You can’t expect your toddler to learn about the dangers of things if you don’t let them discover these dangers by themselves.
Allow self-dressing – Now this isn’t something toddlers need much encouragement with. Once your little one reaches the age of two-three, they’ll start wanting to wear exactly what they want to wear. To you, their choices may seem absurd, but allowing them to wear whatever they want (within reason) actually has more of a positive impact on their development than you might realize.
For example, not only does it boost their confidence and allow them to make their own decisions, but it also teaches fine motor skills too. They’ll need a range of skills to be able to dress themselves. To start, they’ll be comfortable putting on t-shirts or dresses. Anything that doesn’t require buttons or zippers will be easy enough for your toddler to manage.
One of the key things to remember here is to be patient. Your toddler will be really proud of the new skills they are developing. Therefore, the art of getting dressed is going to take a little longer. If you’re worried about being late because your little one takes too long to get dressed, ensure they start getting dressed earlier. If you end up rushing and stepping in to dress your little one, it could slow down their development.
Allow them to help with chores – By the time your toddler is almost three, they’ll want to start doing a lot of things by themselves. While they may not have the skills required to do complete chores and tasks, you can separate things down into easily attainable goals.
For example, toddlers especially like being involved in making their own meals. At breakfast time, allow them to bring you their bowl. You add the cereal, but allow them to pour their own milk using a small toddler friendly measuring jug or cup.
You can also start teaching them about household chores. Getting them to pick up their toys and put them in a toy box is a great example. Not only does this teach independence, but it makes your life a lot easier too if they know how to put things away once they’ve finished with them. Obviously there will be times they don’t do this, but even just some of the time will help!
These are just three tips to promote independence. It’s so important to fight the urge to want to do absolutely everything for your toddler. This is the key age where they start to become their own little person. They want to do things for themselves and become more independent. It’s up to you to allow them to do this in a supervised environment.