Dear Mom, as Mother’s Day is nearly here, I wanted to write you a letter of encouragement that will, hopefully, prove to be a blessing to you and your developing little one at home.
See, toddlers want to be independent, but they are still small and it is hard for them to do everything themselves.
But you know what?
Honestly, we don’t give them the credit they deserve and if you give the, a chance, you will soon find out that, with a little bit of guidance and practice, they can do much more than you think (independently, that is).
My wish is for you to find this list of 10 ways to grow independence in your toddler helpful and inspiring for you to try them all.
These activities will vary by age, so I suggest you try them all and if you feel your toddler isn’t ready, give it a week and try again.
There might be a mild degree of frustration with a few of these activities, but keep it simple and fun. There is something about feeling a sense of accomplishment.
Praise your toddler, but not so much as to overwhelm him/her or to make him/her feel that praise is the motivation behind these activities.
Click on the images below to get more information about each item.
1. Let them dress themselves
It is easy to make some DIY dressing frames at home to practice dressing themselves, but the best way to practice is by doing it! Be patient. They will get it right (eventually).
2. Let them put their shoes on (even if they are on backwards)
Find one or two pairs of shoes that your toddler can put on by him/herself and practice plenty. Make it a fun game. Some people use special laminated stickers inside each shoe so toddlers can easily see which shoe goes on the left foot and which shoe goes on the right foot.
3. Let them make their own meal
Toddlers love sensory activities and to most, food preparation is a sensory activity. Take advantage and include your toddler in this activity!
Yes, it will take longer and yes, it will be messy, but it will be so fun and your toddler will be a step closer to independence.
I suggest you set out easy-to-prepare items like stacking a slice of cheese over a cracker or spreading cream cheese over a mini bagel. Pulling grapes off the stems is fun and it requires coordination and concentration.
4. Let them wash their own plate, cup and silverware
It is fun to play house anytime, but it is even more fun when our actions actually help around the house. Toddlers are part of our family and they can find a sense of fulfillment when they are helpful around our home.
5. Let them put their own clothes away
Toddlers can be very messy, but deep down, they love a sense of order and predictability. Help your toddler learn how to put folded laundry away.
It is better if they put their own clothes away because they are smaller and easier to handle. We even practice folding the clothes (one or two folds) before sorting them and putting them away.
I use a set of bins with handles that fit enough folded clothes for a toddler to carry and handle. I like the shallower ones because then my toddler doesn’t have to lean in too far to reach for the items at the bottom.
6. Let them water plants
Do you have indoor plants? How about watering them with your toddler (letting your toddler do it)? If you don’t own indoor plants, have your toddler help you water outdoor plants.
If you are nervous about messes and spilled water everywhere, start with outdoor plants. I personally prefer to start inside because it gives my toddlers a heightened sense of care when they handle water indoors as opposed to outdoors, but you start where you feel comfortable.
7. Let them cut their (soft) food
I know, I know. You are thinking I have gone crazy. How can I let my toddler use a sharp knife to cut food?! Well, first of all, the knife to be used is a child-safe knife.
Second, supervision is paramount during this activity. Third, look into The Montessori Method; we teach our children to cut their softer foods since they are able to (around two years of age).
The best item to learn to cut is a banana. It is solid yet soft. Use a single blunt knife or a cutting set to practice cutting at every meal time.
8. Let them wash their own hands
This is an activity that they can definitely do independently all the way if toddlers can reach the sink. Use a learning tower or a safe stool for your toddler to be high snout to reach.
You may want to consider using a faucet expender to make hand-washing easier. I would also recommend a hand-washing timer as toddlers still have no sense of time and don’t realize how long hand-washing should take for it to be successful.
9. Let them clean their own messes
Let’s face it: toddlers are messy…very, very messy. And that is ok because it is part of their learning experience and how they explore the world around them.
Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if toddlers could also explore how to clean up the messes they make? Yes, it would be! I let my children use our small, handheld vacuum to pick up dried pasta or crumbs under the table and they love it.
Every time they see me sweeping the floors, they run to grab their own, child-sized mops and brooms to help me keep our home clean (or at least try to keep it clean).
10. Let them talk to you (all you have to do is listen intently and smile)
Toddlers are in a very strategic age where vocabulary and speech explode! They go from cries and groans and giggles to words, phrases and intelligible sentences in a matter of a couple of years.
The more you talk to your toddler, the better and the more you let your toddler practice speech, the better, too! Chit chat, have conversations. Pretend to have phone conversations and even arrange real conversations with Grandma or a friend.