Toddler independence. Let’s call it the “I do it” stage in development. It truly is a bitter-sweet period.
That little baby who depended on you for EVERYTHING is starting to venture into a new world of possibilities. They are starting to discover that they too have two hands, two legs and two feet just like Mommy and Daddy… and then they begin to reason that this is all they need to “do things” just like Mommy and Daddy.
Welcome to the “toddler independence” stage, aka the ultimate test of the Mother’s patience.
So here’s the scenario- You are running late for wherever it is you are going (work, meeting, toddler play group), you have about 2 mins to get on the road and you open the door to get your toddler in the car.
You place him in his seat and begin to put his belt on, but he does the dreaded back arch, stiff-legged move that looks similar to what you would see in the zombie movies. Actually, he looks at you like he will bite you if you make another move in to buckle that belt.
He then screams out “I do it, I do it”, “I get it”, “Me do it”, “I do it myself” or some other adorably cute version of “I got it, Mom” as he grabs the belt straps.
How do you handle this in a way that you can maintain your impeccable punctuality, but still foster his independence?
Does the scene above usually end in tears (for you both) and frustration? I know this was something we really struggled with for a while.
After much trial and error, we have managed to find a good balance and it works for us at this stage in toddler independence. Below are some tactics to help you find that balance.
My hope is that the next time one of these scenarios come up, it will feel
LESS like a
battle of toddler independence against parental sanity
and MORE like an
opportunity for growth and development
Here are a few things you can try next time mister or miss “I do it” chime in.
1) Always factor in an extra 5-10 minutes.
EXPECT that once your little one starts verbalizing their desire for toddler independence, these scenarios are going to happen more often than not. Don’t let it catch you off-guard- be ready.
2) Verbalize and communicate the plan with your toddler.
i.e. okay sweetie, are you ready to go? Do you want to get in your seat and put your seat belt on yourself or do you want Mommy to do it today? Let them answer. Respond appropriately with the plan.
This fosters independence and higher order thinking by giving them a choice and letting them help contribute to the plan. It also helps them understand that events and procedures can be broken down into smaller actions/steps .
This can be used for others tasks (dental hygiene, getting dressed, potty training) as well.
3) In the event 1 & 2 fail… we are not above bribery.
Take advantage of the fact that in this stage, toddlers are also usually fond of holding things. It could be a small container, keys, a small toy, a bottle, etc. Obviously make sure whatever you let them hold onto is safe and won’t make a big mess if opened! I know in desperate times we may reach for the first thing in sight, but if it turns out you have to take it away, you’re in for a very long and loud car ride.
I try to avoid snacks or candies for my bribes because this creates a different dynamic. Be careful with this one.
The car scenario is just one example of the “I do it myself” stage.
In the early stages of this phase you’ll hear it come up during diapering and feeding as well. You can use the strategies above to overcome these scenarios as well.
Just think, soon enough we may be wishing they were MORE independent (i.e. when they’re 25 and don’t want to move out!). Embrace this stage by looking at the bigger picture- you’re raising a future Man or Woman.
As you foster their independence, you boost their confidence in being self-sufficient and self-fulfilled.
The earlier this is ingrained, the more they will step-out and not let fear-based thinking control their decisions or actions. Any small talk or unkind words from peers will not paralyze them or take them off track.
They will know that they have everything they need inside them to guide them in the right direction and make it through any hard times they face ahead.
All that from letting them buckle their seat belt?
This is where it starts. You are calibrating their internal compass and bringing its existence into realization. It’s kind of a big deal. You got this!
Related: 7 Hack to Make Car Trips Calmer