Your little helper

Your baby is growing up and starting to want to do things for himself. Are you ready for this burst of enthusiasm?

You have spent the last year or two fetching and carrying for your child: picking up socks, brushing teeth, making meals, putting away plates…. But at some point your child will need to do more himself, both for your sake and for his. How do you manage the transition from doing everything for your child, to encouraging his independence? Unless you want to be washing him into adulthood, you need to introduce him to what he can do for himself, and make it enjoyable.

From the age of 18 months, your toddler will experiment with becoming more independent, toddling off now and then to explore on his own, most happily while you’re sitting firmly rooted to one spot so he knows where you are if he feels scared.  Curiosity and the desire for independence tip the balance over his need always to be close to you.

You are more likely now to hear: “No! Me do it!” as your child wants to attempt to do more things for himself. Coming up to three years old, improved coordination and body control mean he is much more capable of doing complex tasks, such as feeding himself, getting undressed, and putting away toys.
Even so, his desire to “help” you and do tasks for himself will most likely outweigh his skills. Your toddler might want to carry his cup of water, but it might not make it to the table without spills every time. He wants to please you, but at the same time wants to assert his ideas and opinions, so while baking seems like a fun activity, washing his hands before and afterward might not be so popular.

It is tempting not to indulge these attempts to join in, especially if you value a tidy home or time is limited, but toddlers love helping, and the discouragement that comes from being passed off or restricted can lead to tantrums, family discord, and a crushed spirit. Offer praise and encouragement, and reign in the urge to do the task more quickly and expertly.

parent waves : little helper

Chores celebrate a child’s accomplishments and help him feel like a full participant in family life.

You might need to reschedule parts of your day to allow more time. Encourage your child’s initiative now and it’s more likely to stick into the preteen years, when children can be incredibly helpful around the home. Your toddler wants to help with the laundry and cooking? Great. It’s what he’s designed to do as a growing toddler, and what he needs to do to develop his motor, emotional, and social skills.
He’s picking up cues from you and his environment and trying to put them into action, and learning how to become part of the world he’s now more aware of.

Being able to accomplish an “adult” task boosts a child’s confidence in mastering the world around him and shows him that independence is achievable rather than scary. It raises his expectations of what he can expect of himself and how he can contribute to family life.

Getting things wrong is inevitable but it builds resilience and the ability to make good judgements, both of which are essential to your child’s psychological well-being when he starts making forays into playgroups and at school. Letting go of a little parental control and allowing your child to explore how things work in a safe way is good for you, too, offering much-needed practice for the years to come. When should you expect children to be capable of helping usefully? That depends on where the child is raised and by whom.

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