It’s never too young to start teaching toddlers self-sufficiency skills. Whether it’s helping your child to dress themselves, brush their own teeth or fetch a snack, acquiring the skills to be self-sufficient now will help them become self-sufficient adults.
Children naturally and instinctively want to help and be a part of the team that is your family. They are engaged and curious and willing to learn, and, they learn quickly. It may be that there is so much going on in the home that your child simply gets resourceful, prompted to learn to fetch her own snack in lieu of having to wait long periods, or it may be that you decide to make a conscious effort in helping them acquire some important life lessons that will prepare them well for the long term. In either case, encouraging your child to take some matters into her own hands and showing that you trust them to handle these tasks, will undoubtedly help build self-esteem and confidence and establish a sense of independence. It will help others in the household as well!
Encourage, involve them, teach them the basics and they will quickly accomplish more and more on their own. And don’t be discouraged if at first something doesn’t stick. When they’re ready, it’ll be easier and faster. Instead, focus on a task they’re already better able to handle.
From early on, even as young as 9 months, start by teaching your child to tidy up once you’ve finished playing with toys. Sing the “clean up” song, which they’ll eventually learn to sing with you, and together pack the blocks or toys back into their box or on the shelf before moving onto something else. Emphasize this time with an upbeat tone, say something like “it’s clean up time”. It may surprise you, but your tot will learn early to put things away; puzzle pieces back in the box and carry items back to their place. And you’ll see them displaying this same behavior when playing at friend’s places, museums or libraries. Be consistent, invite them to join you in the tidying up before you leave these play areas and they’ll be likely then to just accept that the clean up is a part of play.
Caring for the family pet:
Around 12 months, your tot can help you to feed some family pets. And your tot will love this! It brings such quick satisfaction and joy. Keep dry dog or cat food in an easily accessibly tub with a scoop. They can carry the bowl to the tub, lift the lid easily and depending on the size of the scoop, place one or a number of scoops in the bowl and help you to put it back on the mat for your pet. Count the scoops with them, “one scoop, two scoops” and be mindful they’re not feeding your animal too much or too little. Older children, around two, can give treats with basic commands to your dog. Keep the treats in a tin in the pantry or cupboard and encourage your child on occasion to ask your dog with the corresponding hand gesture to “sit” or “leave it” with then an “ok” and give the dog a treat. With a cooperative dog this gives your child such confidence and a real sense of satisfaction. It will also help your dog respect your child as a full family member and establish the proper pecking order. You child will even enjoy brushing your dog (if it’s an activity your dog happens to like too!). Our youngest was at 13 months letting our dog outside and calling him back inside, ready with a towel to wipe his feet from the muddy yard! She picked this up just through observation. Kindly, our dog would oblige her and allowed her to wipe his paws!
In the kitchen:
Have an easily accessible cupboard, drawer or section of the pantry where children from around two can fetch their own snacks. Keep a selection of healthy foods accessible. A fruit bowl on the kitchen counter or table with mandarins, bananas and apples. Plain whole wheat or rice crackers, seaweed snacks, nuts, raisins and a tub of hummus. Keep sliced bread in a bin and older toddlers can help to prepare their own almond butter and avocado sandwich. Tell your child she can fetch herself a snack from the selections you’ve provided so you can be aware of when and what she’s eating. Kids love to help with meal preparation, filling their lunch boxes or organizing a picnic even it’s just in the back yard!
Emptying the dishwasher is something kids like to do as soon as they can walk. This is something you can do together. Your child will like removing the items and passing them to you and it’s a nice opportunity with those younger to name the item (“fork”, “spoon”, “plate”) as they pass it to you, helping them to learn. While your heirloom china shouldn’t be in the dishwasher in the first place, you can turn a broken mug into a gentle lesson about handling objects with care.
Keep a water bottle filled and placed someplace low so that younger children can access it when they desire. Choose a bottle with a flip drinking spout on the cap and that doesn’t leak if tipped. Older toddlers can access with a stool a closed jug of water on the kitchen counter top and pour themselves a glass. Your child can use trash bins with easy lids to lift and close and they will dispose of things from all over the house. Toddlers will quickly learn what materials go into the recycled bin or compost and which are for “landfill”, a concept that will benefit them to be aware of from early on.
Keep tasks safe by keeping sharp knives in a drawer with a child proof lock, or delicate wares out of the way, just paying particular attention to keeping utensils, glasses and plates you don’t mind being used, in easy to reach places. But don’t be surprised if your toddler is moving her stool all over the place from fridge to cupboard to pantry to kitchen sink!
Young children love to hang wet washing on the lower rungs of a drying rack or to fold dry laundry. Teach them the basics of folding (in halves) starting with square or rectangular items like pillow cases or dish cloths and watch the awe on their faces as they accomplish such a task with such focused determination and care!
In the bathroom:
From around 12 months, your child will delight in bringing you their toothbrush to brush their teeth. Older children will be able to squeeze toothpaste onto the brush and brush their own teeth unless this is a task you prefer to oversee. Keep these items easily accessible in a drawer or in a cup on the sink.
Keep a safe step or stool by the toilet for those toddlers in potty training. Those flip seats that attach to the toilet are helpful here. Toddlers can take themselves off to the toilet when they need to and call you when they’re finished or if needing help. They can use the same stool or an additional one by the sink to wash their hands, a practice they can take themselves off to do every time you return home from the park or an outing or when the occasion arises.
In the bedroom:
Toddlers love to be involved in dressing themselves. Together you can pick out an outfit before bedtime for the following day or you can keep an assortment of selected items easily accessible on lower shelves for them to pick out in the mornings themselves. Keep pajamas folded on the bed under the pillow or on a shelf where your child can find them so they can dress themselves for bed. Keep shoes with Velcro straps or easy buckles by the door so they can put on their own shoes.
Craft and play activities:
An organized crafting or activity section where your child can take themselves off to draw with markers or crayons can be appreciated and release you from those tedious tasks of fetching glue sticks and paper and other supplies. If you have younger children around who you fear may run off with the markers and color your walls when you’re not looking, maybe arrange everything at a height that the older sibling can access but that is safely out of reach for the younger ones. Basic supplies kept on a table can include pencils, crayons, glue stick, colored scrap paper, drawing paper, rubber stamps, sticker books and play dough.
Keep games, puzzles and books accessible, especially board books for the youngest. Toddlers love going to the neighborhood library and will delight in using their very own library cards. Provide them with a light cotton tote for books that they can carry themselves. They take pride in taking their own (lightly packed) back pack on a hike or to the beach so encourage these things but make sure things aren’t heavy or you’ll be left carrying more than you anticipated.
There are many opportunities to help guide your child and teach them how to be self-sufficient. It will require some patience and a commitment on your part.
It’s much quicker and easier to fold the laundry yourself than teach it, but you will be rewarded for your efforts with a confident, proud and happy child. Like all things, your child will pick things up quickly and easily when they are ready, so start with small steps and build on these. Offer praise and compliments when tasks are managed well. Reaffirm the value of what they are doing like saying “you did such a good job with tidying up! Now we won’t have lost pieces of your puzzle and we can keep playing with it.” Some parents might want to offer treats or incentives like stickers. Some may want to draw up or purchase a pre-made “chores” schedule and your child may respond well to this. Others may feel that if these tasks are not viewed as work and just slipped in to routine, then the satisfaction is in a deeply rooted sense of accomplishment helping your child feel good about themselves. One thing is for sure; teaching your child to be self-sufficient will benefit them as well as you in the long run!