If you are reading this, you likely have a child under the age of 3, and chances are the child depends on you too much or are at the other end of the spectrum, they want to do everything themselves to the point where their “independence” is driving you crazy.

I have one of each, and even now, well into elementary school, those personalities still exist. Still, the good news is there are ways to purposefully and appropriately foster independence in your little one.

It starts with choices. Children who struggle with independence are likely struggling with too many options which overwhelms them or they do not have enough choices, so being independent is their attempt to control some things.

The solution to both problems is surprisingly the same. When your child is struggling with decisions, offer them two realistic choices. The keyword in that sentence is realistic.

You cannot offer your child something that you are not able to deliver. So if you say, “You can take teddy or ducky to school today, but if you don’t choose in three minutes, both are staying home,” you need to be prepared to deal with a screaming toddler if they don’t choose.

If your child is in the “Me Do!” phase then figure out the times and places you have available to allow them extra time. This might require starting bed time 15 minutes sooner or waking up 10 minutes earlier. The idea is to set them up for success as much as possible.

Allow them ample transition time to get ready for what comes next. As adults, our brains can adjust quicker, a young child does not possess that mental acuity.

If you do not have the time to debate a two year old who wants to put their shirt on but can’t, tell them “I know you want to do this yourself, but right now we have to go to school and work. I will spend time with you tonight so you can practice getting your shirt on.”

They are probably not going to like this and will fuss, but if you make a point of following through on your promise to help later, they may remember that for next time.

If you have the opposite issue and your child wants you to do everything for them, elicit their help to make them feel more mature and confident. These tasks can be as simple as, “I can’t decide, should we make mac n cheese or spaghetti for dinner?” or “Can you help me by getting me a spoon?”

All toddlers can benefit from being given daily tasks to do such as carrying their lunch box to preschool, putting their own laundry in the bin or adding ingredients when you are cooking.

To build independence you have to give them opportunity and time to be independent. Remember toddlers are just little people, so give them as much information and respect as you can.

Stick to daily routine as much as possible and let them know if the day is going to be a little different. When children know what to expect they react calmer, try to control less, and gain confidence.

By providing time, realistic choices, a reliable schedule, and opportunities to be a helper you will help your toddler gain confidence and independence in a loving and sustainable way.