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Have a toddler or preschooler? How to help them do things themselves

MILWAUKEE -- Do you have a child at home that loves to say "no" or "I'll do it myself!" Your little one is already getting a taste of independence -- and child development expert Jessica Lahner with Carroll University joins Real Milwaukee to show parents how to foster that.

  • Maria Montessori – “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
  • Support independence early on
    • Parents, we are our children’s primary teacher about the world and about themselves
    • When we allow them to try it “themselves,” we are literally teaching them that they are competent people who can successfully get their needs met
  • Setting up their space to support independence can further help develop this competence. Montessori called it the “prepared environment.”
  • Learning tower by Little Partners ($199 (demo)
    • Comes in many colors
    • Perfect for snacking at counter, island; helping with baking/meal prep; washing dishes, etc.
    • Rails on all sides provides safety for children as young as 18 mos.; adjustable to 3 heights
    • Versatile
      • Move from counter to island
      • Transforms into lemonade/ice cream stands; art easel with add-ons for purchase
    • Keep kids’ items accessible
      • Phillup Cups by Puj ($18.99 (demo)
        • Hang on refrigerator (or anywhere you stick them) for easy access
        • Parent bonus: No more piles of dirty cups. Assign one cup to each child.
      • Self-serve drink/snack (will have water pitcher/muffin tray with snacks to demo)
        • Small pitcher with healthy, self-serve snacks (you determine limits on amount, times offered)
        • Teaches children how to pay attention to own thirst/hunger and meet those needs
        • Bonus: Fine motor skills (pouring) practice; often try new foods when offered this way
      • Provide a lower drawer for their dishes (picture of Jax)
        • Prevent your Mr. Independent from scaling the kitchen counters by assigning a lower drawer/cabinet for their dishes
        • Child can independently unload them from the dishwasher into the drawer, can set their place at dinner …
        • Supporting independence can be frustrating too; requires lots of patience (sometimes kids end up “in” the drawer, or spill the water pitcher)
      • Provide necessary support/scaffolding
        • Resist the urge to take over and do it yourself due to your own anxiety or impatience
  • If there is low risk of injury and your child wants to do something herself, let her try
    • Mask your own anxiety. “Be careful” repeatedly is internalized, resulting in taking fewer healthy risks down the line
  • Just because kids want to do it themselves doesn’t mean they can
  • When they need assistance, offer them just enough support to get them to the next step
    • Scaffolding is like providing them the ladder, but they still have to climb it
    • Fosters a growth mindset where they learn that they can reach their goals with persistence, even when it’s hard
  • EZ Soz/Undez (Sox: $10-$12/2 pack; Undez: $15/2 pack (demo both)
    • Socks and underwear that have the scaffolding built right in!
    • 30% off orders with coupon code: FOX30
  • Lights Kidswitch Light Switch Extender ($8.99 (demo)
    • Allows kids to turn lights off and on without a stool
    • Allows for nighttime bathroom independence

• Don’t be surprised if supporting your young child’s autonomy results in fewer tantrums and greater compliance when you do need her to do something “your way”
• When children feel powerful over aspects of their lives, they are less likely to fight back when we put our foot down.
• The key is to give them opportunities to do things independently often – every day.
o Invite them to help in household tasks such as (can we have a slide of this list?)
 Laundry: Gather dirty clothes, sort clothes, pair socks, fold washcloths
 Wash windows and floors with spray bottle of water and vinegar
 Water plants
 Wash veggies in the sink
 Set and clear table
 Unload and sort cutlery from the dishwasher
 Pull weeds
 Put clothes from washer into dryer
 Dust (Swiffer duster works well)
 Scrub toilets with toilet brush and water/vinegar mixture
 Slice bananas
 Feed pet
o Praise their effort, and support them when they struggle
 Expect mistakes; don’t criticize. Doing so repeatedly risks sending the message that they are not good enough and shouldn’t try
 Empathize with their struggle, feelings of frustration
• Over time you’ll see a confident, independent child who takes healthy risks and believes he can succeed with initiative and effort