"I Can Do It!"

Keep raising the bar
Toddlers go through tremendous growth spurts physically, emotionally and intellectually about every six months, so changes happen really quickly at this age. Before you know it, they are ready to take on new responsibilities. They’ll often let you know by saying something like “I want to do it!” They’re going to test you and try to exert their independence.

It’s important that you encourage them by matching where they are in terms of what you provide for them and what you expect of them. “If you are doing the same thing and having the same expectations that you did six months ago, then you’re not keeping up with the child,” says Schulman. As they develop more skills and abilities, you need to start raising the bar and helping them learn to do more things independently.

Times of transition can be difficult for toddlers, so spell out what you expect of them. A new bedroom regimen might be: “First you put away your toys, then you eat dinner, then you have story time, then you brush your teeth and go to bed.” Following a set routine like this helps the child feel secure and gives him a framework in which to safely exert his independence.

Get comfortable with your new role
A child’s growing independence can be tough for moms and dads. Transitioning from the parent of a helpless infant to the parent of a challenging, independent little person is hard for many, and it happens in a relatively short time. “There’s so much about caring for a child’s physical needs that’s very loving,” says Birnbaum. “Those gestures of feeding and dressing a baby become an extension of your love, and you think it’s part of your job to do these things for them.”

Then they become toddlers and are walking around touching everything and putting themselves in danger quite often. They also demand what they want when they want it. As a parent, you have a natural tendency toward protecting them and trying to minimize their frustration.

But you need to step back because you won’t know what they’re capable of until you make that shift and start letting them do things for themselves. If you don’t do this in the toddler phase, “what you get is a child who hasn’t acquired self-help skills and has no resilience,” says Birnbaum. Your role really has to change at this time to cheerleader as you encourage them to be more independent human beings.