I originally started reading Parenting NH because of this article. I always walked by these freebie magazines at the grocery store, thinking what do people have to contribute if it’s free….well let me tell you, now that I’m a parent, I welcome any advice, especially the free kind!! This magazine is fabulous, great articles, great recipes, news on events going on in NH, and of course lots of mom/parenting blogs! I walked out of the grocery store the other day and saw this title on the front of the magazine so of course I grabbed one, now I take one every month!!

Teaching your child do things for themselves sets them up for success


By Rob Levey


While 3- and 4-year olds need plenty of guidance, local experts agree they are able to do much more than many parents think, which is why they suggest several strategies to promote their independence.


Take a step back and let your child “do”

According to Kellie Eastman of Genesis Behavioral Health in Laconia, it is essential parents resist doing for their toddlers what they can do for themselves.


“Often as parents, we fall into the habit of doing things for them because it goes faster and it is done the way we want it,” said Eastman. “But the payoff for practicing patience and letting your child learn by doing is huge.”


Acknowledging the difficulty in allowing toddlers to try, for instance, zipping their coat when “you are late running out the door,” Greater Nashua Mental Health Center at Community Council’s Michelle Keyworth suggests creating “practice time.”


“Set aside another time to practice zippers and buttons or put a towel out on the counter to let toddlers practice pouring water into different cups,” she said. “Toddlers are really ready to start exploring the world.”


In creating opportunities for toddlers to experience success in even the simplest of ways, Keyworth said parents help them build self-esteem and develop a sense of empowerment.


Seacoast Mental Health Center’s Jessica Ross agrees and said the key for parents is to develop “a healthy balance of support and personal space for their child.”


“Being too overbearing or overprotective can demonstrate to children that they can’t function in the world on their own,” said Ross. “What you want to do is offer your child support by teaching and modeling positive behaviors, but also step back and give them personal space to practice new things.”


Assign chores

While toddlers certainly cannot be expected to literally “work” around the house, Keyworth said they are more than capable of at least helping out.


According to Keyworth, one way to involve children in household chores is to disguise them as games, such as “Who can fill the toy box fastest?” or “Let’s play house and clean up the kitchen together.”


“At toddler age, many children may not be focused enough to complete chores on their own, but by working alongside [parents] they can feel helpful and important,” she added.


Eastman agrees and said preschool children in particular enjoy helping their parents.


“Let them help you prepare dinner,” she said. “They can set the table, wash vegetables, measure and pour ingredients. Many children actually love helping to sweep the floor, vacuum, or fold laundry.”


In addition to promoting self-confidence and helping children develop a sense of mastery, Eastman said chores can help kids develop their first math and problem-solving skills—whether “they help a parent build something or work on a car.”


“Many a 4-year old can successfully pick out the right kind of screwdriver from the toolbox and happily deliver it to you,” said Eastman, who said providing your toddler with choices and asking for their opinion are other excellent ways to gain their cooperation in completing daily tasks.


Keyworth said “many battles for control may be diffused by offering two acceptable choices.”


“If dressing in the morning is a battle, offer two outfits and let the child pick which one to wear,” she said, “or ask questions like ‘Would you like to eat breakfast first or have your bath first?’ Both are the parents’ goal, but the child feels independent and empowered by making decisions for themselves…Both parent and child win.”


Praise them

According to Ross, positive reinforcement through language is essential


“Using positive, encouraging, reinforcing statements about a child’s abilities will help to identify and highlight their abilities and allow them to both make mistakes and continue trying to learn,” she said.


Ross said even simple statements such as “Good job!”, “You did it!”, or “It’s OK, you can try again” can provide long-term benefits.


“No matter what age children are, they can always benefit from encouragement and reinforcement to learn and develop basic skills that will allow them to navigate through their daily life,” she added.


According to Keyworth, independence can also be frightening for some kids, which is why she said parents should not be surprised or upset if a child “who was previously able to go potty alone or dress themselves start asking for help again.”


“Use statements like ‘Sometimes even big boys need help, but I’m sure you can do it by yourself next time,’” she said. “This lets them know that even as they are growing up, parents are always there when they’re needed.”


Noting toddlers quickly learn, for instance, how to turn on the stove or use a chair to reach things, Eastman said a parent’s role extends well beyond one of mere supervision.


“Supervision is essential, but so is parental support to try something new, support to try again when they fail, and praise when they master a skill,” she said.


Do as you say and as you do

Regardless of their age or disposition, your child is watching you.


“Children are like sponges, constantly watching our every move and taking what they see and acting it out in their own daily interactions,” said Ross. “Modeling safe, healthy, appropriate behaviors and ways of interacting with others will help to ensure they will display and engage in appropriate behaviors, interactions and expectations.”


Keyworth agrees and said toddlers learn less by being told “how and what to do” and more from observing how others, including their parents, siblings, and other children act and then mimicking what they see.


“If parents want to encourage independence in toddlers, they can create an environment where self-sufficiency is valued and there are plenty of opportunities to practice new skills,” she added.


In showing toddlers “what it is you want them to learn, especially when it comes to age-appropriate expectations, Ross said parents help lay a very important foundation.


“It can instill a sense of healthy sense of security and independence that can last a lifetime,” said Ross.


Rob Levey is the director of development and communications at Seacoast Mental Health Center and a freelance writer.