Independence is the essence of our life. Independence to do what we love to do, eat what we love to eat. Similarly, you will see an amazing need for independence in toddlers. Toddlers want to do everything independently.
A newborn baby is dependent on you completely. You will need to feed the baby, burp the baby, put him or her to sleep, and care for every small thing. However, as your baby starts growing and starts doing things independently, you need to be around to provide them what they need but also giving them the space to do what they want to do. As your child learns how to sit, you may notice he or she wants to eat (or try to eat on her own). She is learning just by looking at you. This is how nature designs independence in children. So as parents it is important to make your toddler more independent.
Sometimes it is so difficult to watch your child be independent. Especially for mothers, we love to see that our child is growing up. However, accepting that my child does not need me all the time anymore is even more difficult. It is not that your child or toddler does not need you, it means your child is learning and exploring the world from the security blanket you provide him right from birth. She knows you will always be there for her and that you will love her no matter what.
Parents who foster toddler independence (within safety limits and precautions) create healthy, secure, and self-esteemed individuals in the future. Independence is the freedom to make your own decisions, freedom to choose what you want, freedom to be who you want to be, freedom to talk, and voice opinions. As a parent all of us want our children to become great individuals who are confident, happy, and successful (even after failures). This toddler’s independence is the key to make this happen.
Many parents ask me how to make my toddler more independent? How can I foster independence in my toddler?
Here are a few simple yet strong ideas of how you can make this happen at home. You might need to make the smallest changes with whatever is available to you in your house. The main idea is to let them do simple things they can do on their own. Children are driven by natural triggers. For example, when your child is thirsty or hungry he asks for water or food. What if we keep the water and food available for him throughout the day where he can reach it easily and have water without asking for anyone’s help. I have made a special snack and water for my child in my kitchen. It is easily accessible to him without wanting to depend on anyone. He loves this.
Easy and Sure Shot Ways to Encourage Toddler Independence
Set up a water pouring station
Toddlers love pouring water or any liquid for that matter. What you can do is make a water pouring station available with materials required for pouring (glasses, cups, pitcher) and a cloth to clean up the spills. You will find your toddler in the pouring station so many times throughout the day and the end result is your child will be ready with pouring skills in no time.
My son loves his poring stations. He will sit there and play with it any amount of time and once he is done he is calm and collected. He is very good at pouring and has learnt the skill of cleaning up after himself.
Another idea which we implemented was to keep a glass of warm milk ready for him by the time he wakes up ready in a bottle. He is always super hungry by the time he wakes up and wants a glass of milk immediately. He takes his bottle and a glass to his mat and pours his milk into the glass and finishes it with satisfaction. All this is done within minutes.
Hand washing accessible to your child
Toddlers dirty their hands more frequently than anyone you know. Right? They always have something or the other on their hands. Somedays you might be lucky to find easy to clean stuff, most days its insects, worms or dust and mud. Everytime you ask them to clean their hand you have to be available to help them reach the nozzle and turn it on.
Try to set up a handwashing station for your child. A table with a big bowl to pour water into a small bowl with soap to use and scrub. If this is not possible keep a step stool handy near the handwashing basin so he can climb on it and help himself. This is a very simple way of fostering toddler independence from a hygiene perspective.
Design a Snack area – Happy way to foster toddler independence that helps them recognise their hunger and their needs
As I said above, a toddler recognizes his hunger and thirst. He knows that when he is thirsty he needs to drink water. Set up a snack area with a small box of snacks and a bottle of water for your toddler. Make sure the box and the bottle are easily openable by him. You would love to see that soon your toddler goes and drinks water by himself and eats snacks on his own when he feels hungry. You know what this special tip has helped me avoid so many tantrums with my son. Many times he would be hungry while he plays and without realizing it goes to the point of meltdowns. Now, whenever he realizes he is hungry he goes to his snack area, eats his snacks, and resumes his play. See how this is the most healthy and mindful way of making your toddler independent.
Let your toddler feed herself independently at one meal
Letting your toddler eat by herself always ends up in a mess. However, it is a big step towards toddler independence.
“Little children, from the moment they are weaned, are making their way towards independence.”Maria Montessori
When your baby is old enough to sit, it is time to introduce finger foods. Why finger foods? So that your child can pick it up and put it into her mouth. So many other developmental activities are going on in the background when your child is learning how to eat on her own. If it is too much for you let your toddler feed himself one meal a day. Accept that no matter how much he eats, it is enough for now and avoid force-feeding or distraction feeding.
You are teaching your toddler to realize his or her own hunger and stop when they are full. What a beautiful (most messy way) to make your child independent.
Teach them early on how to open and close locks
Every door has a lock and it needs to be opened for the door to open. It is a great idea to teach your child how to unlock the door (first) and then how to lock it. I know it seems scary that your child will lock himself inside a room if you teach them how to. But, this happens at least once in every parent’s life. It is better to be prepared for it beforehand rather than panicking when the moment comes without any preparation.
I remember when my sister was young she had locked my mother in the bathroom without knowing how she did it or how she can undo it. She sat there crying and mom was inside unable to do anything. After a lot of screaming from the bathroom neighbors heard her screams. They called up my dad and all of them together had to break down the locks. All this while I and my brother were in school.
There will be instances while a child locks himself in a room or locks up with you inside and him or her outside. It is a great idea to keep keys always handy in all rooms. All this until your toddler grows old enough to understand things.
Give choices everyday to make your toddler more independent
Give your toddler simple choices every day. This is the most important exercise you can do with them to build decision making skills. Decision making skills and understanding that you have choices are two most important qualities used everyday by everyone.
Let your toddler choose what he wants to wear between two or a maximum of three options. Give your child a choice when it comes to food he wants to eat. It is important that you keep limited choices.
“It’s not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.”Ann Landers
Take toddler’s opinion into consideration most of the times to encourage toddler independence
Consider your toddler as another individual. Yes! He has different choices, different opinions, and may not be what we want them to do. Listen to your toddler’s opinions. You will be surprised. Such small and tiny children have opinions about everything, if only we remind ourselves to ask. One day my child reminds me to wear white color because it is his favorite color (for that day), however when reminded that it is not my favorite color he asks me to wear his favorite today and for you, I will wear a red shirt.
Take your toddler’s opinions about daily things like when making a meal plan ask your child what he would like to eat this week. Where would he like to go for the weekend?
Let them take a few risks
Yes, small risks are necessary to be taken in life for everyone. Children are no different. Children learn to do everything with a risk. When a child learns to walk, he does so with a risk of falling. When a child climbs stairs he starts by holding but ends up walking independently while knowing the risk of falling. I would not suggest taking risks like walking on the streets alone or working with electronic equipment alone. I suggest small risks that help them develop. Let them take a few risks and come out winners. They have won over their fears and risks. This is the scariest yet necessary way to encourage toddler independence.
Organize everything so your toddler has access to things he needs easily
We babyproof our houses before our baby is even born keep all the harmful things out of reach. Anything that can harm the baby, up it goes! Now it is time to rearrange again. Anything that your child needs or may need, keep it accessible and within reach. Let your toddler know where everything he needs is kept. Toys, clothes, books he loves to read, cloth to clean spills, tissues, comb, moisturizer (a small box only for him), his own toolbox, his shoes, a book to scribble in, a painting kit ready for him to paint without anyone’s help. This fosters toddler independence more than anything.
You know what might happen if this is not in place. Your toddler needs something, he comes to you to ask for it. Before you give it to him he gets distracted by something else and does not do what he wanted to do in the first place.
Let mistakes happen in independent toddlers
You see when you are trying to foster toddler independence, mistakes will happen. It is okay to be mistaken. This is what you need to teach your child. It may not come right the first time, let’s try again. Mistakes are a beautiful way of learning how to do something right. Do not punish your child for making mistakes when he is trying to be independent. Being punished can send a negative message out to your child when he was intending to do something right.
One day when I was in pain my little one wanted to get me some water. He went to the kitchen, took a glass, poured me an overflowing glass of water. He spilled some water in the kitchen and then all the way to the room he came spilling (while trying to be careful). I was awed by his concern for me and his efforts to try to help me. His tiny eyes were looking for something and it lit up when I did not scold him for spilling instead appreciated his efforts. Later he and I cleaned all the spills together.
Let them fall and get up on their own
Sometimes you need to take a backseat when your child is growing. It is difficult to watch on the sideline when your child falls down. But sometimes when the injury is not serious or grave, give him a chance to get up on his own. I am not saying you shouldn’t be around to save your child from hurting himself. Be there and observe. Your child needs to learn how to get back up. Life has many ways to knock you down, we cannot stay down. We need to rise again. This is learnt by experience.
Let your child fall and rise again on their own. Be there for them when they call out to you. Have you ever noticed when you are working somewhere and your child falls down, he sometimes gets up on his own and walks away? However, if anybody is around you will see the same child crying.
Teach them to clean up to encourage toddler independence
Every mother’s dream “ A child who cleans up after himself!”. It is a crucial part of a child’s life to learn how to put things back in its place. Right from the beginning help them put their toys away at their designated places. When your baby is young to understand, just pick up for them and tell them “I am keeping this book and toy back in its place. Would you like to help me? Carry your baby when you clean up. As your baby grows, be with them and help them clean up. Slowly you will find them cleaning up (top a certain extent) on their own. Toddlers cannot do it perfectly because they have so many things on their mind. The efforts matter. In a way you are teaching your child to be responsible for their toys, books etc.
Step stool for when they cannot reach on their own – The best tool I have used to help my independent toddler
Keep a step stool available easily for your toddler whenever they need it.
Do things together too
Yes! We are talking about independence and this says to do things together. Independence is crucial, but your children need your attention and time as well. When you spend some quality time with your children, it makes them more secure, loved, and makes them feel safe. Leaving yourself completely out of everything can make your children aloof, detached. Make sure you balance the time between independent time and quality time with your child. This is the most natural way of raising independent toddlers.
Independent toddlers wipe up the spills
Remind your children that they need to wipe up any spills they have made. You can help them if the spoils are big or difficult to clean. Keep wiping cloth within your child’s reach.
Make salads and lemonade to nurture toddler independence in cooking
Teach your toddler how to make simple salads. He does not need to make it now, but the idea of doing something on their own gives children a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes keep the ingredients handy and ready in small bowls, you will find your toddler making a salad on his own when he is hungry. Making lemonades is easy too. It is healthy and hydrating. Teach your toddler independence by letting him know he can cook for himself too.
My toddler reminds me that he wants to make salad the moment he sees carrots. Sometimes when I ask him who will cook when I am going out. He answers me proudly by saying “I can make a salad for me and daddy!”.
Help with groceries
Take your child’s help when you need to buy or sort groceries. Yes! Toddlers love helping around the house. If you are taking your child out shopping, ask him if he would like to carry his own bag. Even while sorting, ask them to help you put it into boxes, etc. It is the most beautiful way to see your child being independent, so eager to help.
We have done this and now when our son goes to grocery shops with his dad, he asks “Amma, what is it that you need?” He will carry his bag and get something in his own bag and remain with dad.
Let them garden and plant seeds – Sensory way to foster toddler independence
Allow your child to play with mud and work around the garden. It is the best way to learn about nature and everything around us. It is calming, relaxing, and sensory play for children to work with mud. Teach your child how to do gardening, let him plant a few seeds, and see how it grows. Children love watching something grow, especially something that they have planted.
Independent toddlers brush their own teeth
Let your child brush his or her own teeth. They may not do a good job, but it is the idea of doing it by themselves what we need to nurture. Slowly as they grow they will get better at brushing their teeth. As for the safety of the teeth, you can brush their teeth at another time.
This again varies from child to child. Sometimes it so happens that the child does not want to do a certain thing independently. This is okay too.
I give my toddler a minimum of two showers a day. One in the morning and one in the night before he sleeps. He has a lot of physical activities and hence sweats a lot. So I encourage him to have a bath on his own one time (mostly mornings). He loves to play with water and the thought of doing it on his own. Night times routines are a special quality time we spend with him, prepping him, cuddling him.
Setting up the plates and Clean up after food
Request your child’s help while setting the plates before you eat food and help clean up the table after the food. This involvement helps make your toddler independent.
Let your independent toddler wear her own shoes
Children love to wear their own clothes and shoes. No matter how much time it takes. Let them do these things. You will notice them wearing their shoes wrong, it is okay to remind them that it is wrong and let them make the decision to change it or not. At some other time, you can tell them the benefits of wearing their shoes right.
Everything said, it is very easy but a very gradual process towards your toddler being independent. Forcing your way through it will not help. Be gentle with your toddler. Let them take the lead. It is an innate desire of every child to be independent. If not now, at some other time you will observe and notice your child’s need to be independent. So the right time to be independent varies from child to child. Observe your child and you know your child the best. See what drives him or her. Create your own activities around the above activities. Whatever works best for you, your toddler, and toddler independence.
Great article related to teaching children to live with rules and how to follow them –> Best and Ultimate Ways to Teach Your Toddler to Follow Rules