Help Your Toddler Foster the Foundations for Lifelong Independence

Independence is an essential life skill. Building the foundations starts at a very young age – and there’s plenty that parents and caregivers can do to encourage this.

Toddlers are naturally inquisitive. Every waking hour is filled with new discoveries and the brain is undergoing the steepest learning curve of life. Every day, new neural connections are being formed. From learning the names of animals to following bedtime routines, there are many age-appropriate activities that play a large part in encouraging a child to explore and build resilient independence.

Why is learning to be independent so important?

As adults, we all know how feelings of self-doubt can plague our decisions, actions and day-to-day activities. While such emotions are natural and a central part of who we are, a strong sense of independence is what helps us cope at times of high stress, uncertainty and change.

Independence helps us to:

  • Take control and direct our life in the way we choose,
  • Helps with personal growth and development.
  • Allows us to become self-sufficient.
  • Helps us to embrace our own creativity.

Ultimately, fostering independence from a young age has a direct impact on current and future happiness. This is something we all want for our children and there are many ways that we can help them during the earliest stages of life.

5 age-appropriate tips to foster toddler independence

You only need to look at children – even during their first early months – to see that they’re on a quest for independence. Trying to get out of the playpen, grabbing for a favourite toy, trying to feed themselves… These are all examples of exploring and pushing the boundaries of increasing independence.

Encouragement and guidance are key. In fact, it’s pretty much all we need to do – the child’s natural curiosity will do all the rest.

  1. The importance of free play: Unstructured play is one of the best ways to nurture independence. This means letting your toddler guide where play might be going, instead of always making suggestions. Provide them with the tools to do this. Crayons, building bricks, soft toys, for example. Let them explore how they want to interact with such items and provide encouragement. For instance, if they’re building a tower, praise them on how high it is. If they’re drawing, compliment them on their colour choices. Interject with suggestions only if they become a little stuck for ideas. If they’re happily making up their own entertainment, support them and go with the flow.
  2. Set regular routines: This doesn’t mean a schedule, more of creating guidelines around what happens every day. Examples include cleaning their teeth before bed or hand washing before food. As your child becomes accustomed to such actions, let them help with the stages (such as squeezing out the toothpaste). As time goes by they’ll begin to anticipate what needs to be done and need less and less help to do so.
  3. Let them problem solve: It can be so tempting to interrupt a child when, for instance, they’ve put their shoes on the wrong feet. However, allowing them to make mistakes and work out things for themselves is a vital skill that helps build independence. Rather than jumping in, gently encourage and praise when they manage to work out a problem. If your child asks for help, rather than simply solving it for them, provide assistance that still allows them to achieve the end goal themselves.
  4. Encourage your child to help: Children love to get involved with what you’re doing. Baking a cake? Let them mix the ingredients. Working in the garden? Let your child help dispose of the weeds or fill up the bird feeders. While such tasks might seem small, you’re providing a great grounding in shared actions, building their confidence and allowing them a sense of control.
  5. Use appropriate words, phrases and actions: What you say while your child is playing or helping with chores is really important. Praise is really important – as is regular acknowledgment when they’re trying to do something (whether or not they’re successful). Imitate what they’re doing. If they’re building a tower, you could build one too. This is a truly powerful way of encouraging appropriate behaviours and builds even stronger bonds with your child. Be enthusiastic and positive about your child’s achievements (and failures) – remember, it’s only by failing that we learn to adapt and discover how to figure out a way to success.

It's really easy to incorporate little stages of independence into everyday life. Let your child dress themselves, allow them to self-feed, choose their own toys, help with simple chores (with assistance if needed or asked for, of course). Before you know it they’ll be making choices, solving problems and showing you many other signs of readiness that they’re ready to take on more complex issues.

At Evoke Childcare, encouraging independence is key within our open learning environment. Toddlers are encouraged to explore and express themselves in our carefully curated, age-appropriate spaces. Our whole childcare philosophy is based on our belief that every child is a curious, capable and unique individual.

Discover more about us, our values and childcare centres by getting in contact today.

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