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Help your toddler develop competence

Research has shown that toddlers tantrum less and cooperate more when they feel more powerful.

Proud toddler

give your toddler responsibilties & competence

4 Ways you can help your toddler experience healthy power in the world:

  1. Listen to her and offer her respect.
  2. Let her make choices whenever possible.
  3. Use routines to help her feel in control.
  4. Give her the opportunity to experience competence.

It may sound odd, but toddlers need daily experience with work to start thinking of themselves as competent people. Not burdensome work, but rather work in the spirit of Maria Montessori, or Tom Sawyer, who turned white-washing a fence into a reward.  

Start with ordinary household tasks, not because he can really help you at this point – he may well make a mess.

benefits of giving toddlers responsibilities:

  • Toddlers are fascinated by household tasks because they see you — their heroine – doing them. They WANT to help.
  • Your budding scientist uses ordinary life to figure out how the world works.
  • You’re doing the work anyway, so you can help them and bond over the task. They love being with you and this counts as quality time!
  • They’re constructively occupied.
  • They’re gaining skills for the future; it’s educational. 

household tasks for toddlers

  • Making themselves a snack, such as peeling fruit or an egg, or slicing soft cheese and making sandwiches with crackers. 
  • Helping wash pots and pans or other unbreakable dishes. 
  • Pairing the socks as you fold clothes.
  • Washing the table or floor. 
  • Helping you on errands. 

Does the idea of your child “helping” on errands sound scary? Actually, by letting them help, we redirect their energy, and they’re more cooperative and less likely to tantrum. Let’s take the grocery store as an example. Most parents find shopping with a toddler or preschooler nerve-wracking and likely to end in a tantrum.

But what if you did things a bit differently?

Get your child a small plastic child’s grocery cart to push in the store. As you go through the aisles, choose the items on your shopping list. If the item can handle rough treatment, give it to your child to put in his cart. If the item is dangerous (uncooked meat) or fragile (eggs, peaches), just tell your child that this needs to go in Mommy’s cart. He will be so happy with his own haul, he won’t object. When you get to the checkout, let him unload his own cart. He can hand you the items to put on the cart, if he can’t reach. He’ll be so busy he won’t be paying attention to the candy display. And if he’s really worn out, by then he’ll be happy to sit in the cart and snack on the healthy treat you let him choose.

The end result? Your toddler says “I did it!” and begins to think of himself – and to become — a more capable, powerful person. And you get a more delightful toddler.

More toddler tips

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