Me do it! When toddlers want to do everything themselves.
Me do it! Watching a toddler feed themselves for the first time is a joyful moment for parents. We encourage it, wait for it patiently, and do not mind the mess they make. But those very things can be frustrating as well, especially when toddlers insist on doing it all themselves and refuse any help. No matter how pressed for time, how askew it is or how messy the clothes get, toddlers will insist on doing it all, once they realize they are able to do something. Feeding themselves, dressing up on their own, carrying things, bathing themselves – you name it, they will want to do it.
We could probably do it all 3 times over in the time it takes them to do that one thing like unbuttoning their shirt, but it makes no difference because they do not want to do anything else in the time and effort we could save them. We, on the other hand, are likely to wish for more patience and a day with more than 24 hours in it.
The good thing is these are the first steps to independence. They are figuring out how to navigate the big wide world for themselves, testing their limits and pushing their boundaries.
What can we do to make it easier for them and ourselves and encourage them at the same time?
Do not step in unless they ask. Our first instinct may be to step in and help. Remember that the best help to render is to let them do it themselves. It fosters independence, builds a sense of self-worth and character.
Let it be messy: It will be less than perfect in the beginning. The laces to the shoes may be crooked and the food may spill a little or get smeared on the face, but we are watching the beginning of something beautiful so what is a little mess?
Create decoys: The toddler wants to eat by themselves while we want to ensure some food has reached the stomach instead of just the tabletop. Let them eat some finger foods themselves (A few peas or pieces of fruit perhaps) while you feed them the real meal.
Share the task: They can put on one sock while you put the other. Or they carry a small bag with their toys to the daycare while you carry the heavier one, which makes them feel like they are participating in the effort.
Plan for time: Whenever you can, plan for it. Know that wearing shoes will take twice as long before you step out. So plan for it when possible and it will be less frustrating.
Practice Practice: Let them wear shoes when they can. Let them practice putting things in a bag so they can pack up faster in real-time. Practice makes perfect toddlers!
Make your home toddler-friendly: Metal bowl and spoons work well rather than fragile glass and ceramic items. That way it does not matter if it falls to the ground. Similarly, elastic waistbands are fantastic instead of snaps and buttons. Velcro is wonderful while laces can have you tied up in knots.
Clear simple instructions: When you need them to do something, toddlers respond to clear simple instructions best. (Like most of us actually) Tell them to put on the shirt and then pull up the pants. Make a distinction between the left foot and right foot shoe by keeping them exactly the way you want them worn.
Make room for toddler activities: If they can get a sense of having completed a task, they will be happy and feel accomplished. Of course, there will be times when they lose interest and move on leaving you to do whatever it was, but think of how independent they are getting!
The ‘Me do it’ stage appears between 18-36 months and it’s actually a good thing. The baby is getting more independent and more prepared for the world. Embrace it, encourage it and facilitate this. Assuming responsibility for oneself is a slow process and it’s wonderful to see. Enjoy this time and look back on it later to see how far children come. After all, Love is making our children as self-dependent and happy as they can be. Happy parenting!