Independence starts at home.

How to Toughen Up Your Toddler

by Darlena Cunha

In a new wave of encouragement-anchored parenting, kids are learning to love themselves and embrace their character. One negative outcome of this everybody-wins phenomenon, though, is that children grow up believing it is their birthright to be the best. They take it further, and think everything should be easy for them. When it's not, they run back to the safety of their parents, no matter how old they are. An important part of rearing kids is teaching them how to fend for themselves in a world that's not all gold stars and pats on the back.

Don't make a big deal out of boo-boos. Your kids are going to fall. They're going to get scraped and bruised. They might even suffer a broken bone or a split head. Many well-intentioned parents yelp or shout out when they see their child drop. Because kids look first to their parents for appropriate life reactions, too many coddles from a parent over a bumped knee might encourage the child to overplay the importance of their physical injury for sympathy. It's important for parents to pay attention to their kids when they're injured, but to couch reactions so that those injuries don't become overblown.

Don't hover over your child. You cannot protect them from everything, and if another kid is bothering yours, give the two a moment to sort it out before you intercede. You want your child to be able to reason through his problems and come to a solution by himself, if you can. Of course, if he's being bullied or cannot handle the it himself, it's your job to protect him. Otherwise, let him run free in a safe environment. He'll learn to depend on himself first, but to come to you for help when it's needed.

Make them try new activities. If they don't succeed, encourage them to keep at it and try again. New endeavors and change are scary no matter how old you are, but the younger you start your child down the path of experimentation and choice, the easier rolling with the punches will be as they grow. Encourage flexibility, and help your child reason through difficulties using logic and calm. Be positive and helpful, but stand back and allow your child to fail. Only by falling -- literally and figuratively -- will your child learn how to pick himself up.


  • Many parents will fall into a boot-camp style mindset if their child displays too much sensitivity. Avoid that at all costs. Your child will grow to be more independent and happy if he knows you're there in the background with love and support. It will give him the courage he needs to mature and "toughen up."

About the Author

Darlena Cunha has been a writer and editor since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Connecticut. Cunha is also completing her master's degree in mass communication.

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