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10 Parenting Hacks for Raising Self-Reliant Toddlers

It’s never too early to teach our kids to be independent and self-reliant. We know independent kids grow up to be resilient and often successful adults. Sometimes though, it can be so hard to encourage independence in children, especially when it’s so much easier to just tell them what to do. But like so many things in parenting, the easy way isn’t usually the best.

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There are plenty of times when it’s so much easier to just grab the toys your kid is supposed to clean up and do it yourself, or stick a jacket on them. But, taking the time to let them do it themselves is much more likely to result in a kid who learns to be self-sufficient and an independent thinker. These kids tend to grow up as leaders rather than followers, so it’s important, even when difficult to do so, to give them the opportunity to practice self-reliant behavior. But there’s also no reason not to make it easier on yourself, so here are the 10 best hacks to make it a little bit easier.

      1. Make getting dressed easy with the jacket flip and zip. I had never heard of this maneuver until my kids’ daycare apparently taught it to them and was amazed the first time I saw one of my two year old twins perform it flawlessly. Laying the jacket down on the ground with the hood down, toward the feet, and the inside facing up, kids can dive their way into the arms, then flip the jacket up and over their head, getting it on easily. Even when they don’t nail it right, it’s hilarious.
      2. Clean up toys easily with big individual bins. Cleaning up can feel like a chore, not just for kids but for the parents who have to sit and negotiate with toddlers to put away each individual Duplo block. With big individual containers, it’s easier to figure out where toys go and a little more fun to clean them up. Cleaning up can even become a game like cornhole with more durable toys that can be tossed lightly into the bin.
      3. Join in meal prep by “cooking” together. My boys would always get underfoot while we were in the kitchen preparing food and cooking, especially dangerous when the oven is on or knives are involved. So to get them out of the way, we started giving them bowls, spoons, and pots of their own to “cook” with us. Later we may do cooking classes with them, but for now they’re learning food doesn’t just get cooked without work.
      4. Let them feed themselves with oversized spoons. Often one of the first tastes of independence kids get is to feed themselves. Parents may be hesitant to give kids that much freedom when it comes to such a messy activity, but we were completely surprised how quickly our boys became adept and fairly clean eaters. One day when all the little spoons were dirty and we had to fall back to larger ones, we realized that a big spoon can make the act of self-feeding a bit less difficult and scary, meaning less mess.
      5. Find clothes optimized for little hands. Getting dressed can be one of the last things kids learn to do themselves, and while shoes and buttons might be tough for little hands, choosing the right pants and shirts can actually enable kids to start dressing themselves much earlier. Loose shirts without buttons are much easier to pull arms through. Pants with elastic bands and belt loops help kids pull them up and get them on. You’ll still have to help with the socks and shoes, but it’s still fostering autonomy.
      6. Big cups help them wash their own hair in the bath. Building a routine of hygiene and self-care is also important to start early, and bath time is the optimal opportunity. With a set of big plastic cups, easier to get small hands around and lift up, some children will actually start washing themselves, especially if they think the water splashing is fun. Just make sure to put a few towels down around the tub or you might find yourself replacing the floor.
      7. Big chunky hairbrushes help with self-care. Preventing tangles and staying well-coifed is another great way for toddlers to start learning to take care of themselves. With big handled brushes, they can practice brushing their own hair without much pulling or tugging and as they get a little older, even develop their own sense of personal style and expression. Building comfort with looks and self-image early is also an essential development to prevent body image issues later.
      8. Get a steady foot stool for the sink. A good foot stool lets kids get up to the sink for washing hands and bushing teeth. After using the potty or before eating, teaching kids to wash their hands is a critical development in hygiene. Before going to bed and right after waking up in the morning, a good stool lets kids get up and brush their teeth in front of a mirror so they can practice and see how they are brushing. It might even help prevent the dreaded toddler morning breath.
      9. Use a blanket for diaper changes to know when they’re needed. We stumbled upon this hack by using a blanket for diaper changes a few times while the changing pad was dirty. When they needed diaper changes, our boys started either bringing the blanket over to us to set up, or spreading it out themselves. This way, we knew exactly when they needed to be changed before we started the potty training.
      10. Use the little piggies for putting on lotion. Like many kids, our toddlers get dry skin. We found a great chance to let them be self-sufficient and put it on themselves. We just had to figure out how. We discovered that giving them so lotion on their hands, then doing the “this little piggy went to market”, up to the “wee wee wee all the way home” part saw them spread it around while tickling themselves, or each other.

Getting kids to become independent and do things for themselves can be quite a challenge for parents, not just because convincing toddlers to do anything is difficult, but also because parents tend not to want to put their children in control. Building this trust and self-sufficiency is critical for development though, and can lead to more resilient kids and adults. With these hacks, encouraging children to be more able to do things for themselves can be just a little bit easier and parents won’t just build this resiliency, but may even get some of their own time back.