You're the chief cook, official shoe finder, champion face-washer and a shoulder to cry on. Teaching your child to be more self-sufficient allows you to keep your sanity while wrangling family, life and work. As your toddler learns self-sufficiency, it gives you extra time for your most important duties, including getting your shoulder ready for major disappointments, because preschoolers can only handle so much self-sufficiency.
1 Assign a few household duties for your toddler to do during the week. Tell your preschooler, "We'll work as a team. Dad does the grocery shopping, Mom puts away the food and Harry helps fold the grocery bags." That will reinforce the notion that everyone contributes to making the household run.
2 Buy your toddler a special backpack or purse. Make a kid emergency and snack kit for the pack or purse so your toddler can pull out a tissue or grab some hand wipes. This helps build self-sufficiency by allowing your preschooler to feel responsible to handle the snacks and cleaning supplies. You'll need to help keep track of the purse or pack until your child remembers to drape it over a shoulder, and if the snacks and supplies get lost, it's an important lesson, but not a tragedy.
3 Ask your toddler to regularly prepare a small part of the daily meals. This might mean something simple such as taking the cereal boxes and putting them on the table. Make the job assignment child-size by placing the food on the lower shelves of a base cabinet for easy access. Assigning other simple meal preps might include putting out the silverware or folding napkins, but leave the sharp knives and hot pans until middle school.
4 Notice your child's efforts for self-sufficiency. Mention casually, "I noticed you took your socks out of the drawer this morning. That really helped us get ready for school." You can then secretly match the socks so your toddler won't go to school with one black and one blue sock.
5 Compliment your child when your toddler attempts to be self-sufficient -- even when things don't quite work out the way you hoped. Praise your child with, "Thank you for helping by bringing your dirty clothes to the laundry room," and ignore the fact, at least for now, that the clothes only made it to the floor of the room, and not into the hamper. Once the clothes get routinely dragged into the laundry room, encourage your toddler to put them into the clothes hamper.
- Washington State University Extension: Ways to Encourage Self-Help Skills in Children
- Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care: Early Learning Guidelines for Toddlers
- Latham New York North Colonie Central Schools: Fostering Independence in Young Children
- Maine Department of Health and Human Services: Supporting Maine's Infants and Toddlers -- Guidelines for Learning and Development
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images