It all happens so quickly - at least that’s what it seems like. One minute you’re cradling your newborn and the next thing you know, he’s walking, running and asserting his independence, insisting on doing things by himself, in his own time and way.
Tip to parents: don’t underestimate your child. The toddler years (from 13 months to 3 years old) are an exciting stage of growth. This is the period when he encounters greater mobility. He can now move independently and with that comes a greater sense of his surroundings — which he may want to control! His rapidly developing speech skills further aid his desire to be self-reliant. Take for example, the act of brushing his teeth, a routine chore you’ve been helping him with. He may now want to hold the toothbrush himself and brush his own baby teeth. You know his efforts will be clumsy and probably messy. Resist the temptation to say, “It’s easier if Mummy does it for you.” Instead, let him have a go at it in front of the mirror, with you supervising. Once he’s managed a couple of brushing actions, gently take over and efficiently complete the job.
Similarly with feeding. Sure, it’s easier for you to spoon-feed him, but if junior wants to feed himself, offer some finger food on his plate (say, cheese sticks or banana chunks) and let him finish it off under your watchful eye. He will feel a sense of pride and accomplishment at what he’s done. Supervise your child at all times when it comes to mealtimes to prevent choking hazards.
By acknowledging your child’s ability to be competent at certain skills and allowing him to perform age-appropriate tasks, you are giving him not just your vote of confidence but the opportunity to accomplish something.
When children succeed at a task (like strapping on their sandals by themselves), it boosts their confidence, making them feel capable and enthusiastic about taking on the next challenge. With the completion of each successful task, coupled with your praise, their self-esteem grows, empowering them to strive for more positive behaviour.
As the toddler years advance, assess what tasks he is capable of managing on his own or with minimal supervision. Avoid doing everything for him when he is perfectly capable of following through without your help. On the other hand, don’t expect him to be perfect at these new tasks. This is only the beginning of him learning how to be a responsible, helpful child.
From the age of three, there are many simple tasks a child can perform around the house. For starters, he can place his dirty clothes in the laundry basket or put his footwear in the shoe cabinet whenever he comes home from school. He may even be able to wipe up minor spills during mealtimes. Another task your child can get busy with is picking up and putting away toys. If a child is too young to tidy up all his toys at one go, make him in charge of selected items (like action figures and toy cars), while you tackle the rest of the stash. As he gets older, he should be able to put away all of whatever he has taken out. After all, he has you for a good role-model.
Small Chores, Big Results
Older pre-schoolers can be assigned with more grown-up tasks such as taking their cup and plate to the kitchen after a meal and helping Mummy dry the plastic cutlery after it’s been washed. If you’re not adverse to a bit of mess, let your child help in basic food-preparation duties like breaking eggs into a bowl, pouring drinking water into cups, sprinkling cheese over the homemade pizza and kneading flour. Children from five to six can be given the opportunity to handle money by buying something at the supermarket or local bakery. Let your child choose his favourite bun and hand over the right amount to the cashier. Yes, he’s made his first purchase!
Remember that with each new task they attempt, children gain more experience and feel more positively and confident about themselves. When your child successfully completes a task, show support and appreciation with a smile, thumbs-up or ‘thank-you’. When the most important people in their lives (that’s you, Mum and Dad) cheer on their effort, it motivates little ones, empowering them with the courage to move on to new challenges. Just the kind of attitude they’ll need for the years ahead.