Helping toddlers to be independent

by Jacqueline Harding. Your toddler will want to be independent - but still requires the right amount of support from you.

toddler with remote control


Your child always wanting to do whatever you are doing can get a bit annoying when you are trying to get stuff done. Likewise, it can be frustrating when your child is too scared to try things on their own and clings to you for support.

How can we find the right balance between encouraging our children to grow up independently - without making them grow up too fast?

How CBeebies can help

Watching shows such as Me Too, Balamory or Tweenies can encourage children to have a healthy sense of who they are and help them grow in independence.

Children see themselves reflected in their favourite TV characters and it's just one of the ways that children learn about fairly complex things - such as taking responsibility, starting to be more independent and even being brave enough to try out new things.

Why not direct them to the Mister Maker pages on thew CBeebies website and encourage them to have a go at creating something fun? If they are reluctant, you could make something together first - and then let your child have a go at something else afterwards.

How to make a magic moment

How about making up a silly rhyme or dance with your child? Then, encourage them to make up one on their own, perhaps saying something such as 'Wow, you were so good at helping me with that rhyme/dance, I bet you can make up an even better one on your own.'

Once your child senses your encouragement they are likely to have the confidence to try something on their own, and - bingo - a magic moment!

Extra information

Within their first five years, children move from total dependence on their carers to becoming independent enough to leave the security of home for several hours a day and attend school.

One of the ways to help with that developing independence can come in the realm of self-help skills. For example, getting dressed. Toddlers swing between wanting to do it themselves and needing help. Of course, easy to put on and take off clothes are helpful to small hands. You just need to make sure that you're close by to encourage and praise, helping for part of the task.

It's always a good idea to break down a complex task into the simple links of a chain, link by link until your child can manage the whole task. This can be applied to getting dressed or, in fact, any task your toddler might attempt.

Some of the most familiar battles with two to three year-olds are about choice... about anything and everything! So, when they have chosen particularly well, praise their choice and tell them why they have been so clever.

Some teachers have found it helpful to tell parents what skills they would hope that the children could do independently by the time they start at school. These might be:

  • to dress and undress themselves
  • to remove their coat, gloves and hat and hang them up on a peg
  • to tie their own laces or fasten their own Velcro on their shoes
  • to use the toilet properly and flush it after use
    to tidy or clear away toys
    to be willing to share toys and take turns
  • to wash their hands and faces and use a towel to dry them
  • to eat with a knife and fork (provided the cutting up is not too difficult)
  • to use a tissue to wipe their nose
  • to be able to stay confident without their parents and carer always there.

Print this article

Want more fun?

See all fun activities

Expert opinion

Some of the greatest steps in a child's independence come in the pre-school years of three to five.

Hannah Mortimer, Educational and Child Psychologist

Top tips

  • Encouraging your child when they do something new on their own (e.g. dressing themselves) can build confidence and a healthy sense of independence.Shows such as Me Too and Tweenies can encourage your child to try things on their own as well!You may find that your child wants your attention when they have found something they feel they are good at. Reward their passion for the new talent with lots of encouragement.Why not keep a photograph album full of all those special moments when your child manages a new skill?

Parent's tale

Give yourself and your child enough time to get ready in the morning, especially if they are beginning to dress themselves.

Janet, From Nantwich

Answers from the web

More from the BBC

Elsewhere on the web

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.