They start out so tiny and precious. We hold, feed and change them, and they go peacefully back to sleep. We smile and they smile back. We sing songs and they giggle. We dress them just so, and proudly show them off to our friends as they sit sweetly in our lap. What an idyllic scene…and then one day, it hits…
That sweet little baby that used to stick her feet out so you could put on her pants now grabs the pants from you and screams, “Do it self.” Thinking you must be in charge, you take the pants from her and say “Mommy will do it.” The screaming gets louder. You try to distract her with her favorite toy. “No! Do it self!” says the toddler. You’re in for an all out battle.
You ask yourself, “Who is this child? I thought I had this parenting thing figured out. Why won’t she let me do this simple thing? How much worse can it get?” Hang on for the ride.
Your child is no longer a helpless infant. Toddlerhood is the age of autonomy, or independence. This independence marks an important milestone in her development. Her simple pronouncement of “Do it self” is telling you several things:
- I am learning that I am a separate person from you
- I am showing my independence by trying new things on my own
- I need time to practice these new skills
- I need you to stay close and encourage me
- Please don’t “help” too much or I will not learn
This is not a mere act of rebellion. This is a time when your toddler is trying to show you that she is learning new things. Your job is to watch carefully, be patient, and keep her from harm. You see, her new found independence does not come with mature judgment, so she may get herself into some unsafe situations. She also needs much encouragement. “You put your shoes on all by yourself!” or “Wow. You climbed into your car seat without Mommy’s help! I’m so proud of you!”
In the months to come, she will want to do many things on her own. Be patient. Allow her to show her independence as she begins to master feeding, dressing, and even climbing. Contain her independence within safe limits and praise, praise, praise! Celebrate another milestone in your journey together.