Monday, March 18, 2013

Fostering Independence in Your Toddler

Independence grows out of dependence.  Humans are not born ready to run with the herd within minutes of birth.  We are members of the order primates, which have slower rates of development than most other mammals.  As primates, human babies rely on their parents, siblings or other caregiver for feedings, transportation, and security.

According to William Sears, M.D., and Martha Sears, R.N., authors of The Baby Book, studies have shown that the most securely attached infants actually showed less anxiety when separated from their mothers to explore toys in the same room. When going from oneness to separateness, the securely attached baby establishes a balance. This balance is between a desire to explore and a continued need for the feeling of security provided by a trusted caregiver.

Once toddlers become mobile, the world is theirs to explore.  Most likely, "No!" will become a big part of their vocabulary. Experts say that instead of viewing this as disobedience; consider this as another independence milestone to be celebrated. Saying "no" signals that toddlers are beginning to understand they are individuals with their own wants and ideas.

How Can Parents Help Foster a Toddler’s Growing Independence?
A parent’s job is to find a balance between a toddler’s growing need to explore and a need to keep your child safe, and possibly maintain some order. If you have not already done so, spend some time getting your home toddler-ready (remove breakables, cover electrical outlets, etc.). An explorer in the house can be messy. Try to reconcile yourself to the fact that your home will most likely not wind up on the cover of House Beautiful during these years!

Experts say that when it involves toddlers, cooperation is key. It is normal for toddlers to want to try what mommy, daddy or older siblings are doing. Offer choices within reason. “Would you like eggs or cereal for breakfast?”  "Do you want to wear the blue or the green shirt?” Having opportunities to make choices help children gain independence and confidence. Giving children choices is a useful positive parenting tool for avoiding behavior problems as well. It is respectful to your child too. It recognizes a growing capability and the right of children to have at least some control in their own lives. Choices also help a child learn to make decisions and express preferences.

Parents can also assign child-sized chores to their toddler, such as helping sort and fold clean laundry or sweeping the floor with a dustpan and broom.  Remember to build time into your day to let your children discover. Toddlers learn so much more when walking through the park instead of being confined to a stroller.

Remember that balance a parent needs to keep? Know when to step in and lend a helping hand.  A toddler’s independence will ebb and flow, especially during times of change, such as during an illness or a new baby is welcomed into the family. When they ask, be prepared to help. Knowing that they can return to you for comfort as well as help, even with an undertaking that they have already mastered, will build more confidence and encourage children to take their next independent steps onward. For every two steps forward, it is normal to take a step back.

During the first year of life, a baby’s needs and wants are the same thing. Meeting your baby’s needs is the best way to help him/her feel safe and secure. Current research shows that being held “too” much cannot spoil babies; rather, children who have a strong attachment to a trusted caregiver are secure and learn early that they can count on mommy, daddy and others for help and comfort. They know that home is a secure place, and are more willing to venture out and explore later on in life.

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