The Toddlerhood Stage and Independence
Toddlers – one to three year olds are balls of energy, vitality and curiosity.
They’re busy trying to master so many skills all at once like talking, walking and climbing. For most toddlers the biggest challenge is becoming their very own person. When your little one starts trying to assert her independence you’re likely to hear a lot of “NO” and “I DO IT MYSELF".
REJOICE – although this behavior may be difficult to tolerate, this means that she is developing her own identity. Of course, with independence comes the gradual separateness from parents but nurturing that independence is one of the most vital gifts you will ever give your child.
TODDLERHOOD - DEFIANCE OR ASSERTION?
The meaning we ascribe to a word fuels our perception of the behavior or intent behind it. During toddler years it is tempting to describe a toddler as defiant. However, as parents if we can observe the behavior as a manifestation of self-development and assertion we’re far less likely to view it as negative, or behavior in need of fixing and more likely to adopt a flexible approach. In the long run this will benefit both parent’s and toddler’ mental health – believe me.
Rather than reacting to toddler behavior as disrespectful, see it for what it is – an attempt to assert herself as an individual. After all, that’s our job as parents – raising, independent individuals that will contribute in their own way to the world.
PICKING YOUR BATTLES
When your toddler is resolute and determined to do things her way, it is so easy to fall into the trap of issuing edicts, threats and ultimatums. There are two problems with this
- Your Toddler feels cornered – either she does something she absolutely doesn’t want to do or, she suffers the consequences of your threat. Now you have a very unhappy toddler.
- It puts you in a position of having to follow through on a threat made in the haste of irrationality, something you will probably struggle with later when you’ve cooled your jets.
The single most effective way to encourage your toddler to be independent is to love her unconditionally, support her and have a truck load of patience – yes, I know – that leads to self-care – that’s for another day. Here are some tips:
- Time; remember, she’s only learning. If she can do it – let her. Realize though, that it will take her longer to dress herself, brush her hair or feed herself. Resist the temptation to step in and speed things up – you will not be doing her or yourself any favours in the long run.
- Believe in her; there is no greater boost for a child’s confidence and self-esteem than her parent’s belief in her ability.
- Choice; Offer choice but not too much – e.g. “would you like your green sweater or your red sweater?” Too many choices can become overwhelming for toddlers.
- Encourage curiosity; Make your surroundings as toddler-proof as possible. Store the breakables and fragile objects so that she can get on with her job of play through exploration and you won’t have to be like a broken record, policing her and saying “No”.
- Widen the Social Circle; Get your toddler used to spending time with other children and adults in different settings. Schedule short periods of time when you are away from her so that she learns to stand on her own two feet.
- Use Humour; Work with your toddler through humour and clowning around – you will still get where you want to go and you will both be the better for it. It’s a lot more memorable learning through entertainment.
- Focus on the behavior that you want; Highlight and praise what you like. If you’ve ever said to a small child “don’t run” it is almost a guarantee it’s the first thing they will do.
Keep your own sense of humour and remember these are just growing pains!