3 Ways Your Toddler Can Be More Independent

I want to do it!” my son yells, grabbing his shoes and thwacking them in the general direction of his feet. He wants to put them on by himself. But he can’t. He’s not even close. One day, of course, he’ll be able to. But that day is not today and we need to get to music class. So I take them back, and he yells, and I shove his shoes on his feet and we go. (By the time we get there he’s forgotten about it.)

But it’s going to happen again. If not with the shoes, then with something else. Because he’s two. Which, in his mind, is a very grown-up age. And he’s ready to do all the things that grown-ups do, thank you very much. Only, it doesn’t really matter how ready he is because, surprise surprise, he’s not actually able to do a lot of them. But that doesn’t stop him from trying. And getting frustrated. And yelling. Which is no fun for either of us.

So, I’ve made it my mission to find grown-up things he can do. Mostly to stop him from yelling at me, but also because I think it’ll help him feel competent and successful. (But mostly the yelling.) And, while we do still have the occasional shoe meltdown, I find that he seems more willing to accept my help for things he really can’t do when I’m letting him do other things he can. Here are a few things that I let my two-year-old do that yours might enjoy trying too:

1. Helping out in the kitchen

I know, at first glance the kitchen seems like one of those places you shouldn’t let your toddler touch with a ten-foot pole. It’s full of things that are messy, breakable, and dangerous. But, with a little planning, there are a lot of things your toddler can do in the kitchen by himself. For example, you can have your toddler help you unload the groceries. Distract him with some pots and pans for a few minutes while you take out the breakable items (like eggs, and glass jars), then have him take everything else out of the bags and set them down on the floor. If there are things that go in low cabinets (or if you trust him to put things in the fridge) he can do that too. Another one is emptying the dishwasher. Once you’ve taken out the knives, glasses, and other dangerous or breakable things, your toddler can take out things like plastic cups and bowls, spoons, or other safe items and even help put them away (if he can reach the cupboards or shelves they belong in). You can also ask him to do things like getting the pots and pans you need for your cooking projects, putting napkins, plastic cups, and plastic plates on the table to help set it, and other fetching projects.

2. Taking off his clothes

Because my son is so inept at putting his clothes on, it took me a while to realize that he’s actually pretty good at taking them off. This is another one that actually ends up being helpful since, while he’s undressing, I can run his bath, or get out his PJs or whatever else I need to be doing. And he feels great that he’s doing this grown-up task all by himself. Of course, letting your toddler undress himself definitely takes longer than you just doing it yourself. And it often resembles a demonstration by Harry Houdini. But, if you’ve got some time (and you’re in the mood for a laugh), see if your toddler can do it. He might surprise you. And, if there are some parts that are still too tricky he’ll probably be more willing to accept your help with them than if you take over the parts he actually can do.

3. Clean up on his own

If it feels like you’ve spent the last year running around crazily after your toddler putting one toy away while he pulls out another, I’ve got good news for you. Your toddler can clean up on his own. Not right away, of course, but with some guidance, this is another helpful area he can be independent in. Start by instructing him to put away one item at a time. You might say, “Please go put that ball back in the bin. Thank you! Now grab your stuffed animal and put it back in your crib. Great!” And so on. Make sure to give him lots of praise and encouragement when he puts something away (even if it feels like it’s taking a million years and you could have cleaned up five hundred times in the space it’s taking him to walk to the toy bin.) Once he’s got the hang of this, you can start to give him more autonomy over this task. You can say something like, “Please put away all the cars and trucks and let me know when you’re done.” The chances that he actually will are probably slim at the beginning, but with check-ins and encouragement from you (plus some reminders that you can’t do the next fun thing until this task is complete) he’ll get the hang of it.


Well, there you have it. Next stop: college!