“I Can Do It Myself”: A Toddler’s Declaration of Independence

          A toddler is a fluid being.  Between the ages of eighteen to thirty-six months there are many changes that take place in a child.  He is moving toward his independence, but the reassurance of his parent, or caregiver is still something he relies on greatly.  The toddler’s capabilities and desires to do for himself physically, emotionally, and socially are moving full steam ahead. 

            Toddlers unconsciously absorb everything in the world around them. Their minds are sponges, and their fingers are the means of soaking information into the sponges.  They love to touch and do things to explore what will happen.  “What will happen if I put the ball into this hole?”  Physically a toddler cannot wait to try out a new activity or test a new-found piece of independence.  They are hungry for information about the world around them. 

            Moving away from a parent or caregiver and into the emotional realm of learning who he is as an individual is how a toddler begins to find his identity.  Comfort and encouragement from the adult in his life will still be necessary, but perhaps not as often as it was when he was younger.  He begins to find his own voice as a result of his transition toward independence.  “No” is often a favorite word in a toddler’s vocabulary.  It is important to not always see this word as having a negative connotation.  This word is the child forming his own opinions, and as difficult as it may seem, it should be treated gently, but with limits. 

            When toddlers move into a community with other children their age, they begin to expand their social circle.  They are suddenly seeing that other little people their same age exist.  When parallel play with the same material takes place, parents and caregivers often urge toddlers to share or not to touch one another’s work. Before offering an intervention, the adult should watch the children who are engaged in the activity. The adult may ask himself, “Is there truly a need for my mediation?”  The answer to that question may be surprising.  Of course, there is a need for guidance in the toddler community, but the guidance often comes most effectively through the caregivers’ modeling of appropriate behaviors in the classroom.

            Helping toddlers smoothly adjust to the transition of moving away from their dependence and toward their independence is a charge given to parents and caregivers.   It is a charge which should not be taken lightly.  An environment that provides safety, security, and above all the ability to move about freely within limits should be the ultimate goal of the parents and caregivers.  Toddlers are going to transition toward independence; how successful they are at obtaining this freedom in a positive manner is up to the adults in their lives. 

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