Nurture your toddler's independence

Help your little one deal with his growing-up hurdles whilst becoming more independent…

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  • Staying dry at night

    Most children aren’t night-time dry until they’re about 3 to 3½ or even much later. “The signal his bladder’s full has to be strong enough to wake him, and this kicks in at different ages,” says child psychologist Dr Janine Spencer from advice website “A good sign he’s ready is if he has consistently dry nappies in the mornings.”

    If he insists on going without nappies, let him. Be sure to boost his confidence, no matter if he manages to stay dry or not, and don’t get cross if he’s wet in the morning – it’s not his fault. You could suggest he tries pyjama-style pants as a halfway point between nappies and nothing.

  • Switching to a big bed

    Moving out of a cot is exciting for your toddler, but daunting too. The key is to make it part of a new routine. “Create an inviting sleeping place, letting him choose new bedding,” says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution .

    “Incorporate new steps like drawing his own curtains or putting teddy into bed. Make a chart of the new steps involved and help him tick things off as you go through the evening.” If he does get out of bed, stay calm, give him a hug and remind him it’s bedtime and that you love him.

    “When it was time for Hayden to go in his own room, we let him loose with a paintbrush! We also decided on a small toddler bed rather than a full-size single,” said Kaley Gallon, 23, from North Shields, mum to Hayden, 4, and Alicia, 1.

  • Fighting his own battles

    This is a toughie for you, Mum. You see another toddler grab your little one’s toy. Do you run over and intervene? Or stand back and let him solve the problem for himself? “Equipping him with the skill to ‘fight his own battles’ – without using fists, of course – is a huge step towards his independence,” says parenting expert Frances Byatt-Smith.

    “A small toddler’s instinct will be to get upset or lash out at another child and you will need to intervene.” You can work in things for next time, such as helping him understand feelings and letting him know it’s OK to have angry feelings, but not to act on them by hitting or kicking. “That way, you’re teaching him to take responsibility for his actions,” says Frances.

    “Max went through a period of biting his older brother when a situation didn’t go his own way. I banished his favourite toy and asked him how he felt – then explained that was how his brother felt when he bit him,” said Marta Williams, 35, from Cheshire, mum to Aleix, 5, and Max, 20 months.

  • Playing on his own

    “It’s never too early to teach your little one he has the power to make his own fun,” says Rachel Waddilove, author of The Toddler Book: How to Enjoy Your Growing Child . Don’t feel guilty – his imagination will flourish.

    “Help him start off a game. Then, once he’s engrossed, slip out and let him develop the theme on his own. Pop your head around the door now and then to see how he’s getting on. Help build his confidence and give him a sense of achievement by commenting on how wonderful the castle he’s built looks, or what a great idea he’s had to race his cars around the room.”

    “Jessica role-plays tea parties with her cuddly toys, and as a result I think she’s a very imaginative child and hopefully her self-reliance will stand her in good stead for when she goes to school,” said Claire White, 30, from London, mum to Jessica, 2.

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  • Being around another carer

    Mixing with different carers is vital for your tot’s social skills and confidence. Even the clingiest of toddlers will get to enjoy other people’s company – honest! “Choose your first babysitters wisely,” says Elizabeth Pantley. “Make sure they’re someone your child knows or is comfortable with.” If he’s going to nursery, take advantage of sit-in sessions that you can be a part of, leaving him for longer periods each time. Make sure he’s not tired or hungry when you drop him off at Grandma’s or nursery, too.

  • Using a knife and fork

    Mastering a full set of cutlery is a complex feat of coordination that your toddler won’t get anywhere near until he’s at least 3 years old. But when he sees you, dad and his older siblings tucking in at dinnertime, he’ll probably want to try to be just like everyone else at the table.

    It’s fine to introduce him to a knife and fork from 18 months to get him started – although you shouldn’t give him adult-sized cutlery at this age. “Try to eat with your toddler at least once a day so he can imitate you, and let him choose his own child-friendly set,” says Rachel Waddilove.

    Don’t expect him to be able to cut up things like meat on the plate – you’ll still have to do that bit – although you could encourage him to ‘cut’ through soft items like mash to feel a sense of achievement.

    “If he’s really not ready for a knife, swap it for a spoon,” adds Rachel. You can then reintroduce the knife a few weeks later as his cutlery skills improve.

  • Brushing his teeth

    While dentists advise supervised brushing until the age of 7, it’s good for your tot to have a go at doing it himself early on, as this will help teach him the principles of good oral hygiene. Let him take the lead, and tell him what a good job he’s doing and how impressed you are. Then get down to a thorough brushing of his teeth after he’s done with his ‘version’.

    “Always try to make brushing his teeth a positive experience – and give limited choices so he feels important, like choosing his own brightly coloured brush,” says Frances Byatt-Smith. “Take turns – your toddler brushes and then you brush. Switching roles and allowing your toddler to help you brush your teeth while you brush his teeth can also be helpful.”