Ellie turned two in January. We welcomed this next year of life with a Minnie Mouse Birthday party, complete with pink and purple tutu. It’s funny how much children change in such a short amount of time. From age one to age two not only do they experience physical growth and change, but cognitive and emotional growth as well. They go from being crawlers or toddlers still reliant on mom and dad to walking talking two-and-a-half-feet of budding independence.
And oh…that independence…
I am a firm believer in raising able, independent children. I also believe that this starts young. I don’t want to raise a child who is dependent on me for everything. And you know what they say…old habits die hard. So, it’s gotta start young or it likely won’t start at all. Seriously though, who wants to spend five years, ten years, twenty years doing everything for their child. It’s exhausting. It’s unrealistic. When we grow up and have to face the rest of our lives, there isn’t going to be someone there to do all the hard stuff for us. I think the key here is support. But what a fine line between the two…
From a developmental perspective, this is the perfect time to begin to foster that sense of independence. Children are ready now. They are waiting for their caregiver to set some boundaries and enable them to fully take their part in this world. According to Erik Erickson, one of my favorite developmental theorists, experiences at this age can results in a child developing autonomy or they can result in shame and doubt. I don’t ever want Ellie to doubt herself. Not now. Not ever. So I’ll say it again, it starts young. It’s not harsh, it’s really just part of life and part of natural development.
Erickson states that it is critical that children be given the opportunity to explore their abilities within a supportive, encouraging environment that is supportive of failure. When we do everything for out children, we take away from important experiences that result in learning. If we never allow them to fail, we also never allow them to succeed. Do we adults succeed at everything that we attempt and try? Certainly not! So why should we set our children up to believe that they will always succeed. Fact is; they won’t. And if we never allow them to explore their limits and abilities they might never learn how to effectively and positively deal with failure and disappointment. They might also never experience the complete joy and satisfaction that is gained when we fail, problem solve and try again, and succeed! This is also a great time to encourage children to ask for help…let them try something, but give them the option to ask for help. After all, we all need a helping hand now and then.
Again, I reference Erickson: the aim of this age of two is self control without a loss of self-esteem; success in this stage will lead to the virtue of will.
If we encourage and support growing independence during this stage of life, children will grown in confidence and feel secure in their ability to make their way in the world. Likewise, if children are overly controlled or never given the opportunity to assert themselves they will likely feel inadequate about their ability to make their way in the world and may also become overly dependent on others, lack self-esteem, and doubt their own abilities. Yes, it does start young.
So how exactly do we go about fostering independence and setting our children up to be confident in their future?
1. Give Children Choices
It doesn’t have to be anything big. Give children simple choices. I ask Ellie every time I get her dressed, “Do you want to wear pants, or a dress?” “Do you want to wear the purple dress or the red dress?” Even simple choices encourage independence and give children a sense of control over their young lives. If they are given freedom to make simple choices now they will be all the more prepared for when they have to make life-changing choices in their future. You could also mix it up a bit and make the choices more complex: “It’s raining out. Should we wear our sneakers or our rain boots. ” At this point you have two choices if they choose the sneakers…let them experience why the rain boots would have been a better choice when their feet get soaking wet, or explain why the rain boots are the best option. I usually start with option two, she doesn’t want to hear my explanation, so I roll with option one…then when she cries because her feet are wet she is more than willing to put the rain boots on. But just take a second and think about all the things children learn in this simple experience.
2. Encourage Responsibility
This is simple cause and effect. If you throw your food on the floor, you are responsible to help pick it up and clean up the mess. Sure, sometimes you have to help them along. But mostly, I find that Ellie is eager to participate in sweeping up those Cheerios or wiping up the juice she spit all over the counter. The key here is to encourage. “Oh, remember, juice is not for spitting. We swallow our juice. Can you help me wipe it up now please?” Not only is this a great life lesson, but it also helps children to develop independence and feel that they have a role and place in this world.
3. Provide Opportunities to Help
Children aren’t helpless. They are actually quite able, and usually very willing to help. Ellie has “chores” that she helps me do. For example, she loads the rinsed silverware into the dishwasher basket. She also empties it and sorts it into the silverware tray (great math skill also!). When it’s time to do laundry, she helps me carry piles to the washing machine and put them in. Again, it doesn’t have to be anything huge. Picking up toys is also great. But don’t expect your two year old to put away the entire floor full of toys in their proper places. Remember to support. Ask your child to pick up all of the books and put them on the bookshelf while you pick up all of the puzzles: be specific in your requests. The smallest “chores” encourage independence, help children to feel involved and needed, and help build confidence. Here are some great ideas for “chores”.
While it is not always easy, and it’s usually much faster to just do things for your child. Take a step back and think about all the things they can learn, and all of the ways they will benefit from the opportunity to test their limits and abilities. Let them experience the world, and begin to find their place. After all, it does start young.
And Ellie, don’t ever doubt yourself. You are capable of doing so many things; great and small. I can’t wait to watch you find your way.
Ellie Helping Sweep The Garage (Bruins hat and all)…I LOVE child sized things 🙂 Doing The Dishes 🙂