how to grow your toddler’s autonomy
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My son, Gabriel, is going to be three sooner than I would like. While it is hard to let go of “Baby Gabey,” it truly is exciting to see him develop a unique and wonderful personality. Toddlers are special creatures. My first child was an easy toddler, but Gabe is more strong-willed and adventurous (meaning he injures himself daily) than she was. When I’m not preventing him from breaking bones, I’m trying to encourage his personal autonomy.
Stimulating autonomy in your children, I think, is one of the most important parental roles. Encouraging them to eat for themselves, dress themselves and think for themselves is a big deal. Toddlers can be super lazy (especially momma’s boys like mine) so sometimes they need to be pushed a bit. Autonomy eventually translates to confidence as an older child, which we all know is an important trait to have for success in life. How can you help your toddler grow their autonomy?
- create a routine. Stick to a morning routine of tasks like making the bed, getting dressed and brushing teeth. Of course, they will need your help while they are young, but starting the routine early will allow children to master these tasks at a younger age. You can also begin routines at night (brushing teeth, bathing themselves, putting on PJs) as well as during meal times (retrieving their own utensils, choosing their own foods, cleaning up afterwards).
- stop doing everything for them. This one probably seems obvious, but it can be tempting to complete their tasks for them. It might take a few extra minutes and both of you may become frustrated, but letting your child complete simple tasks for themselves will show them you believe in their abilities. It also gives them much needed practice. When they ask you to complete a task for them, encourage them and tell them they can do it on their own.
- don’t be afraid of a mess. This one is hard, especially when parents are already so strapped for time, but if you are afraid of your kids making a mess, they will be too. They might spill the milk. They might dump out the whole box of cereal, but trial and error is the best way to learn. Take a giant breath and focus on the fact that these messes will make great photo opportunities!
- encourage their creativity. There are a lot less rules to life when you’re a toddler. You don’t have to color inside the lines, in fact, you’re expected not to! Try not to overcorrect your toddler and definitely don’t discourage their ideas, no matter how wacky they may be. For one to truly be autonomous, one must believe in themselves and their ideas.
- mommy helper toys. Believe it or not, toddlers already want to help around the house. They love to mimic parents and older siblings and often don’t want to feel like “the baby” anymore. Buy them toddler-size cleaning toys (broom, vacuum, duster, etc) and watch them go!
One thing that I’ve learned with my son is that he absolutely craves inclusion. He wants to be an adult right away and part of the conversation at all times. He wants to make his own decisions and he has big ideas about how the day should go. I’m great with that and want to encourage him to be his own person. Unfortunately, communication is really difficult with Gabriel as he has apraxia, a speech disorder tied to his cleft deformity. His naturally autonomous self struggles with his inability to communicate well, so I try extra hard to include him and encourage him to make his own choices – including, choosing his own clothing.
If it was up to Gabe, he’d probably run around naked all day. However, when I ask him what he wants to wear in the morning, his face lights up. He knows which drawers contain certain garments and can reach all of them, which I think is key. Often, camo is chosen for the day. Now, I’m not sure if he really loves camo that much, or if I just buy way too much camo, but either way it’s a winner in our house. When I headed to Walmart this week to choose two new toddler outfits from Healthtex, I gravitated to the woven shirt/graphic tee combos. Here in Palm Springs, it’s pretty warm during the winter day, so I appreciate light layers.
Notice we found camo. ;) We are a family who loves to get outside and go on adventures, so I totally fell head over heels for this graphic tee. And, since we live in California, I particularly love anything clothing with a bear on it! I guess that is a truer statement than I ever knew because the next tee features a bear as well, just noticed that!
I am extremely picky about sayings on my kids’ tees, as in I don’t like most of them. This “I’m Awesome” graphic tee seemed really appropriate for Gabriel though and the bear couldn’t be cuter! I mean, glasses, tie and mustache? That is a winning trio always. The coordinating button-up shirt is great for cooler parts of the day (perfect for desert winter and spring everywhere else)! Both are super soft and of great quality. I can tell these will withstand my rough ‘n tough toddler and the many washings they will go through.
To finish both outfits, I snagged a pair of Healthtex adjustable toddler jeans that I loved the wash on. I tend to buy Gabriel a lot of skinny jeans, and while they are cute and fit him well, sometimes they are a real pain to get on or off, especially for toddlers trying to dress themselves. These straight leg jeans are a new favorite pair and the fit could not be better. I will admit, I was surprised the denim was of such high quality at the low price I found them at! I will definitely be grabbing another pair or two of these at my next Walmart trip. He can clearly run freely in them (and pummel me with rocks).