toddler independence

The long road to Independence

At some point between 12-18 months your TOT will begin to exert his independence; no longer needing you to do every little thing and uttering those words “I do it” for the first time. Soon after will come the very insistent “No!” (which you’ll hear often).

Congratulations, your TOT is now on an incredible journey towards independence. It’s a long road, and at times a bumpy one. But, in the end its worth the challenging, scary and anxiety ridden drive!

Independence should be encouraged; it will boost self-esteem and well-being in your TOT; it begins to give him a sense of his own identity.

But as with all other aspects of parenting, it is an intricate balancing act between keeping them safe and allowing them to explore.

Here are 5 ways to help safely foster independence in your TOT:

  1. Exploration

It is important for your child’s development to provide lots of opportunity for supervised free play, allow them some space to explore whilst keeping a watchful eye from an adequate (yet safe) distance.

If she has a minor fall at the park, encourage her to get back up and try again, divert attention from the fall and instead, acknowledge the effort, directing your TOT towards further activity.

If he takes a glass dish from the kitchen cupboard, communicate your faith in his ability to carry it successfully; OK he may drop it the first few times but allowing him to explore will inevitably lead to him one day, in the not so distant future, being able to carry it. In fact, give him table setting duties, enlist his help. He will be only too happy to oblige. When a few plates break along the way, use it as a positive teaching experience.

A great way to encourage trying new things is to first show your TOT, then you can both do it together to let them practice before going it alone – this works for most scenarios.

  1. Struggle

As parents, we cannot bear to see our little ones (and bigger ones too) struggle. But, diving in to rescue her at the first sign of a problem is actually counter – productive. She will, at some point, need to learn how to problem solve for herself. Lay the foundation now. Communicate belief and provide support, but don’t solve the problem for her and don’t doubt her ability to find a solution. Give her time to figure things out. After all, it’s a life skill!

Toddler Behaviour


  1. Accommodate

We’ve all been there; that morning when you were supposed to leave 15 minutes ago and your TOT is refusing to get dressed into the clothes you efficiently laid out for him the night before; you’re about to burst a blood vessel from the stress of just thinking about getting him buckled into the car seat before you can even leave the house.

The solution is to accommodate. Yes, it can be time consuming, adding precious minutes onto your morning routines, but, the benefit of a happy TOT far out-weigh the burden.

Build time into your morning to allow your TOT some independence with

-washing and dressing,

-toileting, and


Having a toddler under your feet whilst trying to get dinner on the table is also a daily contention in many households. Cooking together can alleviate some of your TOT’s frustrations during evening meal prep time. Measure out ingredients and allow them to help put things together. Even very young children can help prepare fruits and veggies (washing salad for example).

  1. Listen

Between age 2 and 5 many children will give a running commentary of sorts whilst they are playing, they might be talking to their toys or repeating something they’ve heard from family, friends or caregivers. This is all part of them developing the art of communication. Take a moment to “tune in” and really listen to your TOTs blabber. It can give you a glimpse of what exactly is going on inside that developing brain of theirs. It will also help you pinpoint fears, anxieties, preferences.

When you ask a question, wait and give your TOT the time and opportunity to provide an answer, then listen carefully to the answer before further responding. This helps build a sense of self worth and self esteem.

Toddler Behaviour

  1. Avoid power struggles

Perhaps one of the more challenging things to avoid when you’re trying to get yourself and a small child (or children) out the door on time in the morning.

Regardless of whether its morning commute time, a trip to the grocery store or a date with grandma; you can use these tools to effectively avoid a power struggle.

  • Offer choices

Provide appropriate choices; for instance, giving them a choice between “this hoodie, or that jacket” or asking if they’d like apples & cheese or carrots and dip for snack.

  • Give notice

Managing transition times can be tricky so always try to give notice; e.g. “you have 10 minutes until we have to leave, in 5 minutes we need to start getting our shoes and coats on, please finish what you are doing”. Provide further notice when there are 3, 2 and 1 minute left before putting on shoes.

  • Follow through

With kindness and firmness, be consistent, and loving. For instance, acknowledge feelings, reiterate appropriate choices, provide some further opportunity to cooperate, if not, make the choice and follow through.

  • Manage expectations in advance

E.g. it is a very long walk to the park and we have to stop in at the post office on the way; you’ll need to sit in the stroller for the journey to the post office, you can walk with me the rest of the way after that.

Your TOT will feel a powerful sense of achievement and success doing somethings for him or her self – this is a good feeling.

Need help with avoidance of power struggles, email us to book a consultation on managing power struggles and using logical consequences. Quote reference JanBlog for a 10% discount.

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