I want my toddler Julianna to be responsible, confident, and independent. I’m not always there to help her in situations when she needs to stick up for herself or ask for something, so I’m teaching her how to do it herself now. It’s not always easy. It’s not always fun. Sometimes these lessons turn into major meltdowns, but I just keep reminding myself of the end goal.
Also, I want to make sure I am helping her and not enabling her. FYI – Helping is when you do something for someone who cannot do it herself and enabling is when you do something for someone who is very capable of doing it herself. The real world does not enable and it’s never too early to learn that. If not, when she gets older, she is going to be a real pain in the you know what to people around her. So, this is how I’m raising a confident, independent toddler… or trying to at least.
1.) If she wants something, she will ask for it herself
This started at Publix with the cookies. (For those of you not in the South, Publix is our grocery store that hands out a free cookie to kids at the bakery.) As soon as she could put two words together, she would ask for one herself. “Cookie, please.” At first, she would say it quietly while looking down. Now, while standing and looking at the employee, she says loudly, “May I have a cookie please?” When we go to restaurants, she orders for herself too.
2.) She can physically do things herself
It may take a hell of a lot longer this way, but I think it works. When she doesn’t think she can do things, then she does – the look at achievement on her face says it all. Sometimes she picks out her own outfit. Sometimes I do. Usually, I will leave her with it to dress herself and tell her if she needs any help to just ask me and I will help her. It’s the longest change of clothes you will ever witness, but she gets it done and she is proud of herself for doing it. When she struggles, she cries. That’s when I remind her to just ask for what she wants – help. She can get in her car seat and buckle herself in, go to the bathroom by herself (not in public obviously), brush her teeth on her own, and if she can haul all of her toys out of every nook and cranny they are shoved in, you better believe she can put them back.
3.) She gives things to other little girls who need them
When she would watch me retire her old clothes, she would get upset. Then I explained to her she isn’t going to use them anymore and other people need them. She really grasped this concept when we gave some clothes and toys to another little girl who lost all of hers in a fire. This was a mixture of not only explaining, but letting her choose which toys she wanted to give away. I reminded her she was being very nice and doing such a good thing for someone else. (Then, she got a little crazy and started grabbing my things (like my car keys) to give away.) Now, she knows that if she wants more toys, we have to clean up some of what she already has and give them to other kids who would like them. There is no reason for her to have everything she has at her age, but I blame the grandparents 😉
4.) I let her help me
Partly, because I need help, but more importantly – it makes her feel valued when she helps me… even if it isn’t really all that helpful. When we go grocery shopping, I will have her hold my list or grab something for me. I will ask her to bring me a napkin or tell her I need her to help me plant flowers to make the backyard look beautiful. This makes her feel important and that her help is valuable.
5.) I talk to her about feelings, like an adult
This is how we handle tantrums in general. Kids cry and throw fits because that’s how they communicate. Sometimes, I ignore it. Hey, a three-year-old doesn’t always want to talk about her feelings, and sometimes they just want attention… and that does not get my attention. (Well, it does. I just pretend it doesn’t.) Instead, if we sit down and talk, I think it makes her feel like an “important adult” because it’s what she sees us do. She will know we are listening and paying attention to her when her behavior warrants it – in a “talk about your feelings” atmosphere. That’s what gets attention, so that’s how she will behave. Eventually. Hopefully.