From clothing and feeding, to toys and activities, parents start out controlling nearly every aspect of their child’s life. It’s necessary early on to provide such an intense level of care, but as children mature, it can be helpful for parents to let go of the reins a bit and allow for some measure of autonomy.
It’s a big world out there, and there’s a lot to steer our children away from, but here are five things that you should definitely allow your toddler to do.
10 Let Them Choose Outfits
By the time they reach the toddler stage, most children begin developing strong opinions on everything. From lacey dresses (too itchy!) to winter coats (too hot!), children are grasping for some sense of power in a world where they’re often told what to do. So let them have it!
Provide your child with a few options for dressing and allow them to take over from there. While there are, of course, times when dressing needs to be more parent-led, try to let go of the need for your child to always appear perfectly dressed.
Superhero mask to the grocery store? Sure! Mismatched socks for a walk to the park. Why not? Having a say in small aspects of their day-to-day lives will give children a sense of independence and control and also encourage them to practice good decision-making skills for the future.
9 Let Them Choose Meals
One of a parent’s primary jobs is to provide balanced nutrition for their child, but this can be difficult when it feels like the list of “safe foods” is ever shrinking. Take the power struggle out of meal time by allowing your child to choose part of the meal.
This can be done by offering a variety of choices about things that don’t matter all that much. For example, you could ask, blue plate or green plate? Cucumbers or carrot sticks? PB and J or grilled cheese? A child’s day is full of opportunities for decision-making, parents just have to slow down and look for them.
8 Let Them Practice Self-Care
It’s 8 PM and the couch and Netflix are calling your name. It may be tempting to quickly brush your toddler’s teeth in effort to move things along at a faster pace, but think twice about taking over their self-care routine.
Set your child up for success with step stools and easy-to-access items. Show them the ropes and then allow them to try it. It might be more time-consuming initially, but the effort put into teaching self-care not only promotes independence and a healthy body image, but also paves the path to you no longer having to do every step of the nighttime routine (and all the parents cheer!).
7 Let Them Be Bored
The two words every parent hates to hear: “I’m bored!” But despite the annoyance to caretakers, research shows that unstructured downtime boosts creativity and also develops children into independent thinkers.
Boredom gives toddlers space to explore, imagine, and experiment with the world around them.
So hold back on always jumping in to entertain. Acknowledge and sit in the discomfort that first appears, and allow your children to find entertainment of their own. You’ll be amazed at what they come up with!
6 Let Them Take Risks
Parents work tirelessly to protect their kids from harm, and sometimes it can feel like danger lurks at every corner. They fall backwards when learning to sit up, scrape their knees when taking their first steps, and often take a tumble when practicing their climbing skills.
But according to Joanna of scary mommy,studies show that there are definite advantages to parents standing back a bit to let children handle their own risk-taking decisions. Sheexplains the enduring effects that this simple shift can have on a child:
“By allowing kids to participate in risky play, we are demonstrating that we trust them and they’re capable of problem-solving on their own. This can have profound effects on a child’s self-esteem.”
Instead of using general warnings like “be careful!” Parents can help their children think through risky play by using specific prompts and questions such as:
Do your feet feel stable?
Does that branch feel strong enough to hold you?
Do you see that slippery ice?
What’s your plan to get down/across?
5 Let Them Be Spontaneous
Children were born to talk, touch, and move. They possess a unique, unfiltered view of the world around them, and yet their capacity for wonder is at times limited by parental control. Of course, there are times when spontaneity should be curbed, but whenever possible, allow your children the freedom to explore as they wish.
Let them smell the blooming flower or collect a treasure chest of rocks. Let them jump in the puddle and run through the leaf pile. And if you really want to make their day, join in the fun with them.
4 Let Them Get Messi
Children are natural-born explorers. They’re born with an innate drive to discover the world around them, and they’re not afraid to get a little dirty in the process. So rather than following quickly behind with the hand sanitizer and wipes, challenge yourself to allow your child to learn the feeling of sand in their toes and mud on their hands. Pediatric occupational therapist, Ashley Thurn explains the necessity of sensory touch, saying,
“Babies are naturally driven by their tactile sense and explore the world around them with their sense of touch. They touch, feel and explore objects within their reach by bringing items that they’ve discovered to their mouths. This helps them to understand more about their environment.”
3 Let Them Feed Themselves
This concept of tolerating messiness also carries over into the stage of self-feeding. Because social norms view messy eating as inappropriate, parents tend to discourage their children from eating with their hands or quickly wipe their mouths covered in food.
It’s crucial, however, that children be permitted to explore a range of textures and tastes of foods with little parental involvement. Not only will you teach your child to be more tolerant of various sensory experiences, but you’ll also help to build a healthy food relationship.
2 Let Them Make Mistakes
Your child beams with pride that he made his own breakfast, only for you to discover milk and cereal all over the counter. When permitted to make decisions and take risks, children will inevitably make a lot of mistakes. But hold back on swooping in to save the day.
By making mistakes, children learn through their own experience how the world functions around them. They sharpen their decision-making skills, develop resilience, and begin to understand that errors are an inevitable part of learning.
1 Let Them Express Emotion
Children are learning at a rapid pace in this big world, so it’s understandable that they often experience a wide range of emotions. Nearly everything they’re doing and learning is brand new, and they’re usually not very good at it when they start out. It’s frustrating and overwhelming!
For parents, riding the continual waves of toddler emotions can be downright exhausting, but it’s critical that toddlers be given space to feel, verbalize, and work through all that they experience.
Let them feel the disappointment of a rained-out playground trip. Let them feel the excitement over a puddle that’s begging to be jumped in. When you sit with your child in his mistakes and messes, giggles and tears, you’re showing that your support is unwavering, and your love is unconditional — and that’s really all that any child wants to know.
Sources: Scary Mommy, Simply Family Magazine, UCLan, Motherly