"I do it MYSELF!" my two year old friend happily insisted as he struggled to put his coat on. It was going to take forever. Getting the coat on his body was the first step, then trying to thread the zipper (then the actual zipping). Next came the snaps on the outside of the zipper and the hood that he couldn't quite reach.
It was all this adult could do to not take over. It would be so easy to do it for him, not to mention it would save about 30 minutes of our time. Wouldn't he like that better and appreciate the help? No, he would not, thank you very much! He shot me a "step back, sister" look - so I stepped back. And I waited (and waited and made suggestions and waited some more) and the coat was successfully put on. Snaps were snapped wrong but it didn't matter because he felt awesome about himself.
How many times do we step in and do things for toddlers without even thinking about it? Whether its getting them dressed, feeding them or cleaning up for them, we adults just do it better and faster. Perhaps we're still thinking of them as the babies they just were. And even though they still have some baby-like qualities, toddlers are not babies anymore. They are capable of so much and, as a whole, motivated to try many new things.
So how can you enable this independence? Pick and choose when you help. Obviously, there are some things best left to adults, but offering lots of opportunities to practice self-help skills can really give your child a boost in confidence.
Here are some ideas:
*Allow your child to dress himself - if the outfits are too crazy (or not weather appropriate), give a few choices of outfits that you pick out or work together to select an outfit. If a shirt is on backwards and shoes are on the wrong feet, let it slide. If it doesn't bother him, it really needn't bother you. Besides, people will think it's cute.
*Organize play spaces so that your child knows where to put things when it is time to clean up. Make clean up time a part of your day. Music can help to make it fun - see if you can use teamwork to clean everything up before a song ends.
*Allow your child to help clean up messes, even if he didn't make them. Wiping tables with a sponge is a simple pleasure for a toddler.
* Let your toddler brush his hair and teeth himself. A great way to do this is a "your turn, my turn" game where he brushes, then you brush (everybody wins!)
* Teach nose blowing and hand washing skills - this can be especially helpful if your child attends preschool.
*Allow your child to help with mealtime. Ditch the sippy cup for a real cup and allow your toddler to pour his own drink from a small pitcher or measuring cup (make sure that he knows that spills are no big deal). Enlist his help with cooking - standing at the sink and washing vegetables is a golden opportunity for a toddler.
*Let your child walk places whenever possible. Sometimes the stroller is necessary but the older your child gets, the more he will want to walk. Setting some limits helps. You can walk to library but you'll need to hold Mommy's hand.
Try to avoid:
-Being critical. That is never helpful when one is trying to learn something new. Put yourself in your toddler's shoes and appreciate that it takes time to learn new things.
-Getting super-impatient. It's easy to do but never a good idea. If you are short on time, you may say something like: I know you are getting so good at putting on your shoes, but we have to be at the doctor's office in 15 minutes so I'm going to help you go faster. When we get home, I can't wait to see you take off your shoes and socks by yourself!
Remember, you are growing an adult. Enabling your child's self-help skills makes him feel like a contributor to your family, someone who can take care of himself and his belongings. It can be difficult and time-consuming but the confidence it will bring is worth it.
Let them fly.