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Toddler Development: Helping Children Through the "Me Do It" Stage

Promoting Toddler Development & Independence

Your baby was completely dependent on you for the first year of his life. Now he's a bustling whirlwind of energy, intent on taking care of himself - and don't get in his way. You probably feel a sense of pride and excitement at your child's new growth. You might feel sadness that the baby period is over. And then there's the inevitable tug-of-war as your expectations clash with your toddler's newfound desire for freedom.

Most children enter the "Me Do It" stage between 18 and 36 months with varying degrees of intensity depending on their temperament. This stage comes with challenges such as toddler temper tantrums, but it's also cause for celebration. It means that your child recognizes herself as separate from others and feels safe and confident enough to take risks. When children are allowed to try things on their own, they master new skills and build self-esteem. Allowing your child opportunities to do things independently takes longer than if you helped, but the end results are worth the extra effort. Below are a few tips to encourage toddler development and help your child through this exciting time.

Tips for Encouraging Toddler Development

  • Offer reasonable choices when possible. For example, your toddler can't wear shorts when it's snowing outside no matter how much he pleads. Instead, offer two acceptable alternatives, e.g., "You can wear the green shirt or the blue shirt." This strategy allows you to set appropriate limits, while acknowledging your child's need to "do it myself."
  • Make your home toddler-friendly. Keep plastic cups and bowls or pots and pans in a low cupboard within your child's reach. Buy simple knit pants with an elastic waistband instead of snaps and buttons. Place sturdy stools in the bathroom. These small gestures help your toddler become more independent while ensuring safety.
  • Work together on toddler-friendly activities together. Children have an innate need to contribute. Toddlers can help with chores and other household activities. Let your toddler pour flour into a batch of cookie dough or buy child-size gardening tools to be used in the garden. Granted, your child will probably lose interest long before the task activity is done and may actually create more work for you. The payoff, though, is the boost to their self-confidence, which can also increase cooperation.
  • Add "toddler time" to your daily routine. Toddlers are notorious dawdlers and can wreak havoc on your well-planned schedule. Build some extra time into your routine to allow for your toddler's burgeoning independence. You'll feel more patient and your toddler will feel more in control.
  • Give clear, simple directions. Sometimes you must intervene to prevent behavior problems from developing. In this case, use clear, direct language. Tell your child what you want him to do, rather than what you don't want him to do, and offer empathy and understanding to reduce toddler tantrums. For example, perhaps your toddler wants to climb the shelves in the pantry to reach her favorite snack. Say, "This isn't safe. I will help you. You can get the bowls from the bottom cupboard."
  • Adapt to your child's needs. Sure, your toddler is fiercely independent, but they she's also still little and vulnerable. One minute your child refuses all help; the next, he's crawling into your lap in need of reassurance. Be prepared to switch gears quickly.
Your child will continue to navigate between independence and the need for parental security throughout childhood and even into young adulthood. This struggle is normal, healthy, and completely necessary for children to become strong, self-sufficient adults. Your role as a parent is to lead through example and gentle direction, while fostering and maintaining a warm, trusting relationship.

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