If you’ve got a toddler on your hands, you probably already understand that they come with their own innate desire for independence (usually in the form of “NO” at the most inopportune time).
Children have an intrinsic desire for independence and self-sufficiency, but in our constant quest to make day to day routines simpler and calmer (not a bad quest, by any means), we sometimes unintentionally disregard our little ones’ independent nature. The truth is that teaching your kids independence (and then holding them accountable) likely will take much more work on our end than doing the tasks ourselves. But that’s parenting, right?
Now, what they say is true: teaching young toddlers to be independent always results in a certain amount of mess. Let’s face it, little kids are not the most self-aware or coordinated beings on the planet, and for good reason – they’re brand new. Every thing, every skill, every movement, every task is new for them. So, there will be plenty of mess and mistakes as they learn. And that’s OK.
Let’s face it, little kids are not the most self-aware or coordinated beings on the planet, and for good reason – they’re brand new. Every thing, every skill, every movement, every task is new for them. So, there will be plenty of mess and mistakes as they learn. And that’s OK.
Staples’ new Perk™ brand can help alleviate some of this mess and stress. This initiative aligns with Staples’ most recent revamp on work-life which inspires people to do their best, most creative work at their jobs and at home. Their newest line of products, much of which is sustainable and compostable, includes paper towels, tissues, toilet paper, and compostable single-use paper goods (among other things) – perfect for homes with little ones who are learning how to take care of themselves.
If you’re curious about when you can begin teaching your little ones self-help skills to promote their independence, it’s really never too early to start. Children as young as 12-18 months can begin helping out with minor tasks. By the time they are 6-7 years old, you might be surprised by how helpful and responsible they can be. And since independence helps to develop executive function, self-reliance, and problem-solving skills, you can feel good that your constant repetition is really for a good cause – when your teenagers are rinsing their own dishes, you’ll be patting yourself on the back for sure.
Here are five things to keep in mind as you go about this (lifelong) task of raising independent and self-sufficient little humans.
1. Talk about your daily life
Talking to your kids about regular, everyday stuff – like what you’re cooking, how you’re tidying up, what’s on your mind when making certain decisions, etc. – provides them with two really important benefits. First, hearing spoken language and all of its nuances promotes brain development and helps to strengthen their speech and vocabulary. Getting the details of the daily goings-on gives kids some insight into adult human behavior, which from their innocent perspective seems quite peculiar at times. Understanding behavior is a big component of independence because we can’t always just do something we don’t understand.
Also, honestly, you have no one else to talk to, so this kind of just happens anyway.
2. Involve kids in simple household tasks
People decide to add kids to the family because they’re so little and darling, right? Right. But there’s also another fringe benefit – you have teeny tiny helpers at your service whenever you want. OK, that’s not exactly true, but it can be. Young kids, especially toddlers, love being helpers. They love having ownership over tasks because of their naturally independent nature, and they adore praise of all kinds. It’s time you use that to your benefit.
Toddlers are eager to please and eager to learn, so starting early is always a good idea. Model simple tasks – like putting clothes in a hamper, filling a toilet paper basket, setting the table (use non-breakables until they are older), feeding themselves, wiping small spills, helping with the cooking, putting away toys, and learning how to dress and care for themselves – and then praise heavily when they make an effort, even if it’s not exactly right. Watching them fill with pride will fill you with pride too.
3. Use hand-over-hand prompting
Many think that teaching independence requires kids to be able to do tasks completely independently, and though that happens eventually, the beginning steps look a lot different. You might notice that, initially, your toddler has no clue what to do when you present them with a certain task. This is where hand-over-hand prompting comes in. Hand-over-hand prompting is a teaching technique that is done exactly how it sounds: you put your hand over theirs and physically show them how to complete the task.
This works especially well with self-feeding, self-dressing, and hygiene skills – it’s a lot easier to help them brush their teeth or pull up a zipper than trying to explain it. For many tasks, you might have to use the hand-over-hand technique a lot before they really get it. That’s totally OK. I mean, are you even a parent if you don’t have to repeat yourself 1,000 times?
4. Look for progress, not perfection
This is a learning process for everyone involved. You’re learning to parent and teach. Your little one is beginning to process information and make sense of a very new, very confusing world. None of it is going to happen right away.
Small wins, small steps, small bits of progress are all we can ask of each other. All of those moments of meltdowns and lost patience and building frustration? Those are just details.
5. Accept the mess
Ah, the mess. I wish I could tell you there is a way around it, but there isn’t. Kids are just going to “clean” things differently than we are. They’re going to set the table differently, putting the plates and spoons and napkins in places that don’t make sense. They’re going to dump too much salt in the broccoli and rip a hole in the pizza crust and drop the pie filling on the floor. They’re going to dress in strange-to-you outfits. They’re going to get more food on themselves than in their mouths. They’re going to spill. They’re going to spill again. They’re going to spill more than you ever thought possible. It’s all a part of learning. The sooner you start to accept that, the more joy you’ll find in the process.
So, just grab a roll of those Perk paper towels (extra absorbent, of course), help them wipe up the remnants of their latest independent endeavor, and just revel in the wonder of the incredible little person they’re becoming (all thanks to you).
This post was in partnership with Staples, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board.