The INSIDER Summary:
• Routines give kids a sense of control.
• Allowing them to make decisions shows them that their ideas matter.
• Giving kids small ways to help builds independence.
• Humour can diffuse battles for control.
Dr. Tovah Klein, Director of the Barnard Center for Toddler Development and the author of How Toddlers Thrive, describes independence as a “slow, gradual, and long path” that begins when a toddler is up on their feet and moving through the world on their own. The inevitable clashes between parents and kids in this stage of development are their first steps towards independence, when they start forming their own ideas.
It can be a difficult phase for parents to navigate, but Dr. Klein offered four ways that parents can raise independent kids while maintaining some control.
Have clear routines throughout the day
Morning, mealtime, and bedtime routines give kids a sense of direction and keep them moving forward. When they know what’s coming, they can start to go through the motions themselves.
“Young children like to know how things are going to happen,” she said. “It helps them feel like they have a little control, and when young children feel like they have some control, it actually helps them learn to become slowly independent.”
Let kids make small decisions
Toddlers can’t have too many choices, but there are moments when they can have options, like choosing between two pairs of shoes. Allowing them to make decisions shows kids that they can have their own ideas, and that those ideas matter.
“Each time we give children a little bit of control, it goes a long way towards decision-making, and decision-making is part of independence,” she said.
Give them chances to help
Babies can’t be expected to help with any part of getting ready, but toddlers can take on small roles in the process, like putting their hands through coat sleeves.
“As parents, we tend to be very hurried,” she said. “We want to move our children on. We get them dressed, we throw them in the stroller, we’ve got to get going because we have to get somewhere. But if you take a step back and you say ‘What piece can my child do?’ you can help them.”
This approach of meeting halfway also applies to a child’s eating habits. Dr. Klein encourages parents to refrain from commenting on what their child decides to eat from among options put before them, even if it is all carbs.
“The control for the parent is that they have served the food, and the control for the child is ‘I decide what I eat or how I eat it or in what order I eat it,'” she said.
Use humour to dodge battles for control
“When children get stuck in those control battles, like ‘I’m not putting my shoes on,’ or ‘I’m not going to do that,’ if parents get stuck in it to then they’re kind of pulled into the toddler orbit and it doesn’t work,” she said.
Instead, Dr. Klein suggests lightening up and diffusing the tension with humour.
“If you can make that funny and say ‘Oh, am I putting your socks on? Let me try them on my feet. Oh, they don’t fit!’ and the child starts to laugh, then they’re more likely to grab those socks and put them on,” she said. “You’re still respecting them, but you’re getting through the routine much easier.”