For Toddlers, Every Day is Independence Day

The foundation for independence is laid in early infancy! Tweet this!

This month we celebrated Independence Day, the day when we commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. However, for very young children, every day is a day to celebrate independence.

That’s because when children reach the toddler stage, they begin testing boundaries and asserting themselves. These are normal and healthy aspects of development. Your toddler is learning the rules of the social world and developing the persistence and confidence he needs for future success.

Children’s search for independence often takes the form of defying parents’ authority and refusing to comply with parents’ wishes. These conflicts can be unpleasant, but well-informed parents can develop strategies to deal with them constructively.

Finding the Right Balance

During the toddler years, effective parenting requires granting children more autonomy while still retaining the authority to redirect behaviors that are too risky or inappropriate. It’s a difficult period of adjustment, but it’s important that parents continue to show sensitivity, encourage curiosity, and support and value children’s exploration.

Sometimes children’s pursuit of new skills will lead to frustration and that’s when it’s important to remind them — and ourselves — that mistakes are part of the learning process. Parents should think of themselves as an emotional safety net: let children work through difficult challenges on their own, but step in if they become truly distressed.

The Foundation for Independence Begins in Infancy

Allowing your toddler plenty of opportunities to make choices for himself helps instill self-confidence and competence. But the foundation for independence is being laid even in early infancy.

It may sound like a paradox, but the emotional bonds that infants form with the important adults in their lives shape their later independence. Children with strong bonds have a sense of safety and security that endures throughout childhood. As toddlers, they feel free to explore their world because they trust parents and caregivers to be a safe harbor to which they can return.

Independence is a Necessary Ingredient for Future Success

Toddlers want to do more and more things for themselves, but they’re not always the best judges about which new tasks are appropriate to try. Effective parents and caregivers can act as partners. They can promote safe but productive learning by providing children with appropriate choices. In general, new challenges should be just difficult enough to require repeated efforts but not so difficult that they encourage giving up or cause distress or extreme frustration.

Toddlers express their independence by getting in their chairs without help, washing their hands by themselves, helping to clean up, and getting dressed without assistance. They revel in their newfound independence, take pride in their successes and enjoy the praise received from their parents.

However basic these accomplishments may seem, they are actually critical components of social and emotional development. They prepare toddlers to grow into adults who are self-confident, trusting, empathetic, curious, and competent. Few responsibilities that parents and caregivers have are more crucial and more meaningful than helping children navigate this important transitional period successfully.