Sunday, June 20, 2010

Weekly Column: Use Their Independence To Your Advantage

Working through the transition from helpless baby into capable toddler is a messy, but inevitable process. Spilled cups, oozed toothpaste, wrong-footed shoes, mismanaged bites…the control freak in me was beside herself with irritation when each of my daughters reached this stage in childhood. It’s a wonderful phase to go through – the developing of independence – but at the same time, it causes struggles and frustrations for everyone involved.

But now that their actions have become a bit more steady, it’s opened up a wealth of possibility, even beyond the benefits of self-sufficiency. Since my girls would now always prefer to do everything themselves, it’s become kind of a deal-breaker in sticky situations.

For example, when we need to leave the house quickly, but my two-year-old hasn’t yet put her shoes on, a battle is imminent. She doesn’t want to be pushed, yet I want her to hurry, and we’re both stubborn in our wishes. But, if I can phrase my instruction in a way that seems like a choice, we both win. I might say, “Should I help you put on your shoes, or can you do it by yourself?” Instantly, in her new independence, she wants to do it herself. She’ll trip all over herself to prove her capabilities.

We’ve used this question in so many different scenarios, and it’s always been helpful. In getting dressed, cleaning up messes, retrieving items – the possibilities are endless. And an added bonus is that if she chooses to have help, the task is still done quickly, without struggle.

Making it seem like a choice between independence and needing help from a bumbling, demanding adult, well…that moves everything right along. My newly independent daughters get to assert their self-sufficiency, but the outcome is exactly what needs to happen: covert cooperation. On the double.


  1. I love reading your weekly column for two reasons: first, you give really good advice and second, I love seeing the way you're growing into your role at the newspaper. Seriously, these just keep getting better and better! (Did they give you more space, too? Or are you just finding new ways to approach your word limit? Because you seem to be getting more of your own, charming personality into these articles, which I (of course) LOVE!)

  2. It's all in the phrasing for sure!


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