How to let your toddler be independent - within reason

By Erin Dym on March 14, 2012
There will come a time in your child’s life when he or she will want to be independent. And it comes a lot sooner than age 18! 

By age two and a half, my son was refusing to wear any article of clothing that didn’t have the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team logo. I searched the web and managed to find a Blue Jays T-shirt in a toddler size. This was added to his collection of two official Blue Jays jerseys that he rotated every day in the summer. 

Some nights, he even insisted on wearing one over his pyjamas. He clearly was trying to assert a newfound sense of independence, so I allowed him, each morning, to select something from his new baseball wardrobe. 

By midwinter, I was spending hours searching for pint-sized Blue Jays sweatshirts and jackets, but they just don’t seem to exist. So every morning, we lock horns when it’s time to get dressed. 

“This is a usual age for children to begin to discover that there is a bigger world out there,” says certified parent coach Kathy Thomas. “Kids still want to please their parents, and they are still dependent on their parents’ love and praise, but it’s the beginning of the blinds coming up, and kids want to start making decisions and exerting a new sense of self.” 

Your daughter might insist on wearing shorts in winter and your son might want to wear a snowsuit in summer. You might start to hear things like, “I want to do it myself,” or “Don’t help me.” Battles over food and toilet training are also common as toddlers look for ways to assert their budding independence. 

“You might grit your teeth because your child was so compliant before, but now is the time when you want to enable your child to develop the sense of confidence that comes with making their own decisions,” says Kathy. 

So how do you do this in a productive way that doesn’t end in you or your child having a tantrum? 

“Sometimes we need to put our foot down and hold tightly to the reigns; you don’t want to become a slave to your kid or let them do something that is dangerous or unhealthy. But when there is no harm in, say, letting them wear a T-shirt over their pyjamas, let them do it,” says Kathy. “You want to allow them to make harmless decisions to give them a sense of independence and control.” 

In my case, I outsmarted my son by sewing a baseball patch onto his jacket and sweatshirts so that he’ll want to wear winter clothes.

Food fight! How to stop meal time battles 

The dinner table is often ground zero for an epic battle of wills. Certified parent coach Kathy Thomas says “You want to enable your kids to learn how to create a positive environment for themselves throughout their lives. This is the crux of parenting.” To make meal time less stressful, she says: 
  • Involving kids in creating a daily food plan. 
  • Make a list of your child’s favourite foods, then incorporate those foods into meals and snacks.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2012.

By Erin Dym| March 14, 2012

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