How To Nurture Independence In Toddlers: The Essential Guide


Every parent longs for their child to be self-dependent. But being self-dependent isn’t something that a child attains all by themselves – they’ll need bit of guidance from you!

Nurturing independence in a toddler isn’t an easy task. It takes a lot of patience. And to develop such virtue in a child, parents have to provide their child with proper guidance from the beginning as this will lead to the child being self-sufficient and self-reliant. There are a few things to keep in mind as you work with your little one toward these goals.

In this article, we are going to cover the steps that every parent can follow to nurture independence in their toddlers. With any luck, some of the advice below will take you from having a toddler attached at the hip, and get them into some independent play so you can have some well-deserved alone time!

My 3 year old wont do anything by herself – help!

You will need a lot of patience and persistence to make a 3 year old independent, but it is definitely possible! One of the most important steps that a parent can follow is to address anything getting in the way of your 3 year old’s independence in the first place.

When your child won’t even give you some alone time to go to the bathroom and you’re at your wits end, consider some of these tips for how to help kids with their self-confidence.

Embrace your child’s craving for independence 

From their second year, kids begin to crave freedom. They observe and ask for permission to do things on their own. They start to discover their own abilities and try to prove their competence. This is the right stage for you as a parent to start nurturing independence in your child. 

Giving your child the chance to do something on their own is always important, as it gives them the opportunity to feel like they’re capable of being trusted. This is from where the sense of self-dependence starts. 

It is important to allow children a sense of independence, so whenever possible, it’s best to let them take ownership over their actions and environment.

Independent play even for a few minutes, or things as simple as letting them button their own shirt or put on their own shoes, are great ways to get started.

Shackled to a clingy child? Read on!

Teach that making mistakes is alright 

As a parent, it is your responsibility to teach your child that making mistakes every now and then is alright because there are expansive lessons to be learned from them. However, you must take the consequences of these mistakes seriously at all times.

If your child feels like he’s not well trusted, it might affect his confidence. This could keep him from trying new things and making mistakes all on his own. Thus, it is important to navigate these situations more carefully so that you don’t negatively affect your toddler.

As a parent, it is our job to show children that nothing remains static. Mistakes we make can always be remedied. Giving your child the chance to take risks and make mistakes; this is what they need in order to develop skills and independence. Making mistakes, and learning from them, are important to becoming a confident adult.

Teach self-help

As mentioned earlier, toddlers love to do tasks to show they are all grown up. So, it is important that you create a physical atmosphere that will be helpful for the toddlers to become self-reliant. Teach them to self-help by letting them deal with their dressing and toileting by themselves. Then encourage them to do other things around the house by creating an accessible atmosphere. 

By creating an accessible atmosphere, I mean having small chairs so that they can carry them without asking for help, small pitchers so that they can get water by themselves whenever they are thirsty, having a stool in front of the sink so that they can reach up to it and wash their own hands, having small sponges so that they can clean up after themselves, etc. These tasks are important for a toddler as they teach him to be independent. 

Involve your child in maintaining their home – they will feel proud to contribute!

Handout chores & tasks to your toddler

Another step towards your child’s independence is letting him/her do chores and tasks that are age-appropriate. Doing so will not only develop a sense of responsibility but also nurture independence. young kids actually want to be like mom and dad, and while initially, it will also see you spending extra time guiding them through simple tasks, the investment will pay off in the long run.

Encouraging your children to practice self-responsibility is another form of making them self-dependent. starting with simple activities like putting their toys away, getting their cutlery out for dinner, and scraping off their plate or bowl at the end of the meal are great ways to involve them in these daily tasks.

You may be surprised at how much fun you can create for your child by making cleaning up their toys actually part of their play! It might be a game to see who can pack up all of the teddies the fastest, or perhaps sorting toys into colors or sizes.

Provided the tasks and chores you are giving to your son or daughter are age-appropriate, you’ll be doing wonders for their growth and development.

Show love & respect towards your toddler 

Exhibiting love and respect is an effective way of making your toddler independent. It is the foundation of building up his/her confidence. Children are compelled to try new things, and as a result will make mistakes. They’ll most effectively learn from their mistakes by having you by their side, knowing you love and care for them. Knowing no matter what the mistake is you will always respect them and help them make things right. 

Things like asking them for their thoughts or opinions on something, involving them in as much conversation in the home as you can, and allocating some dedicated time to spend with them are all ways to demonstrate love and respect. Your

A 3 year old might not be able to clearly communicate how they’re feeling, but you can get a good gauge just by looking at their behavior. For example, if your 3-year-old daughter is getting irritatble, then most likely she is sad and needs some extra affection from you.

It’s amazing what a dedicated 20 minutes spent playing with them and their toys can do. This single thing made the world of difference to both of my boys and the time we spent together; if one of them was a little more clingy than normal I found that a bit of dedicated fun meant I could then have that solo toilet break after all!

Exhibit yourself as an independent 

It is said that a child’s first teacher is his/her parents. From the beginning, children try to observe their parents. They try to imitate everything their parents do. Those children and their little sponge brains pick up a whole lot more than we give them credit for. As a result, it is more important to try and demonstrate the behaviors we would like them to also exhibit, too.

Many children will benefit from simply hearing you talk about things as you are doing them. Talk aloud about how glad you are to be able to clean up after yourself, identify things that are right or wrong, get yourself dressed etc.

Show appreciation towards your toddler

As mentioned earlier, children pick their parents as their first teacher or role model. As a result, they eagerly want their parent’s respect, love, and approval. Appreciation is the key to encouraging them to improve their behavior, actions, etc. 

Appreciation is a way of showing the children that what they do matters and they are doing an excellent job with whatever it is. This leads the children to believe in themselves and to believe that their work is important. 

You will find that they start taking more ownership of their actions, and actively look for new things to take on. Tell them that you value their help with packing up after dinner, that you appreciate them cleaning up their toys after playing with them, and that you’re proud of the way put effort into cleaning themselves in the bath.

Acknowledging your child’s actions and letting them know you appreciate the effort they put in will improve their confidence.

Let them solve their own problems

Being independent means you don’t immediately stop and wait for someone else to fix something whenever a problem occurs. We all need to learn how to solve our own problems.

it might be learning how one of their new toys works, taking off and emptying issue that has a rock in it, or redoing a button which is come undone. If you notice your child has bumped into something that needs resolving, try wherever you can to let them work it out first. It might not always be possible, or they might need a bit of guidance to come up with the right idea, but they will be immensely proud when something they do resolves the situation.

going through the process of problem-solving doesn’t have to wait until school. if things haven’t devolved into tantrum territory, you may find that asking questions of your child helps prompt them to work out what actions to take.

I had the best successes when I would sit at the same level as my boys when they were upset about something, asking them what was wrong, then asking follow-up questions like “what can we do to fix that?” More often than not by the time we got to this point in the conversation they had already started resolving things themselves.

If you always come in to solve problems, you might find your little one begins to think that someone will always solve problems for them. You would be committing yourself to solving everything for them, forever.

Let your toddlers look after their own pets

Taking care of their own pets will teach your toddlers to be empathetic towards someone else’s needs and will also teach them to be more responsible and self-dependent. It is proven that having a pet in the house can have a positive impact on toddlers. 

So, if you have a pet, make sure you make your toddler deal with some of the pet-related responsibilities according to his/her age. it may mean that these tasks take a little longer, and may not happen correctly first go, but things will get better I promise!

Our goldfish sometimes got a few too many flakes than they really should have! the sense of pride that my youngest, in particular, had when he remembered to feed the fish was so great.

Help your toddler develop their conscience

It is important for a child to have morals in order to be confident and independent. As a parent, it is your job to help him/her develop their conscience. Highlight and praise the actions of your child which are good, and guide them when they are not getting things quite right. This appreciation will encourage your child to do the right thing. 

It may be that they are patting the family cat a little too hard, or they have taken toys from one of the other kids at preschool at the morning drop off. Being clear about where the boundaries are will help your child’s independence in the long run, since they will be less fearful about making mistakes; they already have an idea about what is right.

Show consideration for your toddler’s opinions 

Where possible, try and be flexible with your toddler’s choices, since it will give them a sense of responsibility and independence. You can always provide your toddlers with options but don’t make their decisions, let them do it.

For example, you might let your toddler choose his/her outfit every day. Let them be their own person. You can also let them choose their meal whenever you go out to eat or ask them what they want for lunch or dinner before making them their meal. 

Try narrowing the options down to three choices that are suitable for the situation, but let them take ownership over the final result.

Help your toddler to be goal-oriented 

Being goal-oriented drives humans to be more focused, confident and independent. As a toddler, your child may not know how to be goal oriented and how achieving something takes patience and time. Goals help us worry less about where we are going, and focus more on the steps that we need to take to get there.

start by taking something that they want, and help them break down the steps they need to take to get there. This could be as simple as acknowledging they want that chocolate biscuit, but to get there they will need to wash their hands and eat their lunch first. Celebrate with them when they achieve their goal, and go back over their journey to get there.

And maybe have one of those chocolate biscuits too!

Define clear safety rules

It is our job as parents and caregivers to keep our kids safe. Being clear about the rules that are important for safety will help both you and your child have more confidence in their independent play and their learning overall.

Establish rules around when should they open the front door, who should they talk to while their parents aren’t near, what they should and shouldn’t touch around the house, how they should not walk out of the house alone, etc.

These rules may differ from one household to another; other kids at preschool may have different rules for the same thing. You may find this is part of the discussion you will have with your children about these rules, and will likely be part of the learning process I’ll go through as they find their place in and out of their home.

In conclusion – 3 year olds are 3 years old!

They’re going to test you, and it’s your job as a parent or caregiver to guide them through these early stages of independence that they need in order to grow into confident adults. That means setting clear boundaries on what is safe, listening when they have concerns about the rules you’ve set up, and celebrating their successes along with them!

Toddlers are at an age where they can be very independent and show a lot of pride in what they do. However, it is still our responsibility as parents to nurture that independence with the right guidance. It is important to keep in mind their short attention span but high levels of energy when trying to teach them new things like safety rules or how to dress themselves. We also need to remember that 3-year-olds have no sense of time so may not understand why something needs patience and work for success. It’s important during this stage for us as parents to provide clear boundaries while understanding toddlers won’t always follow these guidelines on their own without some help from us.

You’ve got this! If you’re still feeling unsure about how to help your child grow, don’t be afraid to reach out to your child’s doctor. They’ll have seen this quite a bit, and can provide you with the support and guidance you need to help your little one grow as an individual. Lean on what we’ve learned over the ages and make the most of life with a little one – they’ll be out in the world before you know it!

Carly Wight

Mother of two young boys (6 and 3!) and an avid "Googler", Carly is the kind to research something to the nth degree. Be it about products, hacks, or techniques, she shares what she finds out at her website - Fairy Good Mommy.

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