12 Activities to Encourage Toddler Independence

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The other day I asked my 20-month-old daughter to throw away her empty fruit snack pouch in the garbage.

She smiled at me, picked up her pouch off the living room floor, walked over to the garbage can, lifted the lid, then slam dunked the junk!

I never felt more proud.

Even Michael Jordan would have given her a high-five.

Her father and teenage brother barely pick up after themselves. And, if I do ask for help, you’d think I was asking them for their last can of Mountain Dew or their left kidney.

Why am I telling you this?

Because as a mom, you know what a huge win it is when you discover that there is someone else living under your roof who can help you keep a clean house.

Yes, she’s only a toddler.

But, don’t underestimate your toddler.

Even if your toddler is still learning their words and mastering their fork skills, she can still learn how to help around the house and complete tasks independently.

Fostering independence in your young child is a good thing!

Most toddlers prefer accomplishing stuff on their own. Nowadays, my little girl shoves my hand away when I help her put on shoes!

child looking through camera and a child looking over a railing at a pond | fostering independence in child

Here are 12 activities your toddler can do to encourage independence and self-sufficiency.

1. Pick out clothes

While it can be nice to have your very own personal Barbie or Ken doll to groom and dress, it is much better to involve your child in the process of getting dressed. It also helps encourage your child’s individuality and creativity.

Will their clothes always match? No. But, this little task will help shape your child’s decision-making skills. In the grand scheme of life, does it matter if your daughter wears a pink flowered shirt with her navy blue and white heart pants?

If your kiddo likes to dilly-dally (and mom or dad has places to be…ahem work) try figuring out each day’s outfit the night before.

And, if you’re one of those moms who just can’t fathom letting their kid go out in public looking like a walking art display, stock the dresser drawers with basic colors and designs that will coordinate well.

2. Get dressed

Violet loves putting on her shirts and shorts. Heck, even her light up sandals. While she may not always put the articles of clothing on the right body part, she is trying…and she doesn’t give up!

While helping your child to master getting dressed on their own, it’s best to demonstrate it for her first, then let her give it a go. Occasionally, you may need to provide a verbal reminder of what they need to do. Try to only step in when necessary, such as with help buttoning a shirt or zipping up pants. Eventually, your kiddo will need less and less help.

3. Wash face and body

When you’re giving your child a bath (or a shower if your toddler is like my little one), toss them a washcloth. You’ll be surprised at how much they remember from when you did those things for them.

Remind your tot how to wash her body, wash her face, and how to dry off her body after bathing. Sometimes your toddler may need just a tad of verbal guidance.

Since my daughter likes to shower with mama, I will hop out first and dry off. Then, I lift her out of the tub and hand her a towel. Oftentimes, she will start dabbing at herself without any coaching from me. Remember, our kids are forever watching and mimicking us!

Just like getting dressed, sometimes it can take a load of patience to wait and let your child tackle the task on their own. Just know that empowering your toddler to take on these tasks helps to raise their body awareness and elevates their confidence with each skill learned.

4. Put toys back

Each time your child is done playing with her toy, ask her to put it back before she snags another one. Eventually, your child will develop the habit of putting their toy away when they’re done playing with it. Like with all kids, heck even with adults, sometimes you need to remind them.

Sometimes your toddler may need you to help them clean up, especially if it’s puzzles, building blocks, or toys with lots of pieces.

5. Clean the floor

Messes everywhere. All-day, every day. Some days, I can barely catch up.

Fortunately, my little Violet likes to sweep and wipe up her spills. Though it takes her a bit of time, I do the happy dance every time she cleans up one of her messes.

Of course, in the beginning, I would direct her on where her little broom was, guide her on how to sweep and walk her to the trash to throw away the crumbs. It’s been a few months now and she now understands the concept of sweeping. And, the best part, SHE LOVES DOING IT!

Having children help out with family chores not only builds their self-esteem but also encourages self-sufficiency.

Related: 7 Fun Ways to Involve Young Child in House Cleaning

6. Assist in the kitchen

Even if it’s just mixing spices with olive oil, unloading groceries, or just rinsing off fruits and vegetables, try to introduce your tot to the tools and skills needed in the kitchen. Make sure to always keep your eye on them for safety, while giving your kiddo a little freedom to do her thing.

Try and think of different ways your child can help you in the kitchen.

My daughter has a fascination with the dishwasher. She is great at loading in dirty plates and cups. I point to where they need to be placed and she drops them right in. Yes, it takes more time, but she is learning how to be a great helper, which is a win-win.

A toddler watering flowers with her father standing next to her | fostering independence in your toddler

7. Turn on white noise machine and nightlight

We have a sleep routine down pat. As soon as we enter my daughter’s room, the lights go down, the shades are drawn, the nightlight goes on, and the noise machine is turned on.

I take care of the bigger kid stuff that she can’t reach, like turning on and off the light switch and closing the blinds. And, my toddler? She handles the rest.

She walks over to her nightlight and flips it on and pushes the button on her sound machine. Sometimes she will walk over to her bookshelf and point to a book. Some nights she just waits by the rocking chair waiting to cuddle before bed.

These are simple tasks, yet a great step in teaching your toddler how to get ready for bed on her own.

8. Walk instead of using the stroller

Schlepping strollers around can be a real bummer. It takes up major real estate in the car and is always a pain in the a*$ to open. Once your toddler is more mobile, let them walk and explore more. My tot (tiny, not tater) will walk the track with me, wonder the neighborhood and parks, and even do grocery runs, all on foot! No wheels!

During these times, she rarely wines to be picked up. Although, I am always ready to give her a lift if needed. She is much happier when I let her walk, and mom is WAY happier when that cutie arrives home tuckered out and ready for bedtime.

9. Take the stuff out of the dryer

Open the dryer door and take some of the items out and plop them on the couch, floor, bed, wherever you do your laundry thang.

You may be surprised that your kiddo may be right at your heels ready to start pulling things out too. If she isn’t curious, guide her and direct her on what to do.

If you’re super lucky, she may even help you fold (ahem, knock over) stuff.

If she isn’t a fan of folding, try inviting her to carry her clothes to her bedroom.

Every little bit helps, right?

Related: How to Get Your Toddler to Sleep Through The Night

10. Carry in groceries

Now, I’m not saying to toss your toddler a bag of eggs and hope for the best. Give your child a bag they could reasonably carry, such as a bag with a box or two of cereal or a bag with just a few small items.

I give my daughter the grocery bag with just the bananas or the cheese and deli meats, then once we’re in the house, I show her where to place the bag of goodies in the kitchen. This is typically just the kitchen floor. Every time she brings in a bag with mommy, I praise her.

Whether it’s, “You carried that bag in all by yourself. You are so strong!” or “Thank you for helping mommy bring in the bags of food,” positive reinforcement goes a long way in building up your child’s self-confidence and desire to continue helping.

Your toddler’s desire to help will especially come in handy when it’s time to schlep in all mommy’s Amazon boxes on the front porch before dad gets home.

11. Water the plants

If your child is a water-baby, she will most definitely love helping out in the garden watering plants.

Violet has her own little watering bucket that she likes to use to water the flowers in our backyard. She even waters our neighbor’s mini garden too sometimes!

You’d be surprised at how quickly your child can get the routine down. Violet tends to water the flowers in the same order each time. It’s entertaining to watch.

I’m hoping she fosters a better green thumb than mine!

12. Harvest goodies from the garden

Most children love being outdoors and getting dirty. And, my toddler is no exception. She loves digging in the dirt, playing in the water, pulling weeds, and the occasional Hyacinth. (Sorry, Antonina!)

If you grow your own fruit, veggies, or herbs (no, not that stuff), invite your child to help you prune or pick the goodies.

Other suitable garden tasks for younger children include planting seeds.

Young children typically like large, colorful flowers and vegetables that grow quickly. Some relatively easy plants to grow with your kiddo are tomatoes, basil, carrots, zucchini, green beans, strawberries, and lettuce.

Unlike our budding toddlers, I promise you the above goodies are easy to take care of.

Gardening is such an educational activity and an excellent way to teach responsibility.

Toddler walking through a garden with a basket | encouraging toddler independence

Watching your child become independent is a wonderful thing. It is so cool to watch how quickly they learn and catch on. Allowing your toddler to take charge and do things helps give them a sense of purpose and pride.

Trying new things also helps develop your toddler’s problem-solving ability and helps boost their self-esteem, well-being, and sense of self.

For some kiddos, independence may come naturally. Some larger tasks, however, may require a little more coaching from mom or dad.

In the beginning, try to curb your critiques or your child may get frustrated and give up. Showing restraint will help build your kiddos confidence for the long haul.

Our toddlers don’t comprehend what is considered “good” or “okay enough.” It may take time for tasks to be done up to par, but just know your toddler is learning by your example and guidance. They will get there!

Try to introduce the notion of independence one or two tasks at a time. Just like with us adults, tackling a load of skills can be discouraging and overwhelming.

When your child is learning a new task, I recommend building a little more time to allow your child to work it out. It takes time to master how to load the dishwasher and such.

I’m still waiting for my 14-year-old son to get it down.

Though it may take more time to complete certain tasks, your toddler is well on their way to becoming more independent and self-sufficient.

And, when she does master the jobs of washing dishes, putting clothes away, or helping in the kitchen, maybe, just maybe, she will do better than mommy at getting dad and brother to help with those dang house chores too.

boy toddler wearing a hoodie looking up at his mother inside their house

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Author: Brandi Wiatrak

Hey, Mama! I'm Violet's mom and Chris' step-mama, Brandi. This space is a peek into my cold-brew fueled life navigating motherhood and the world. With brutal honesty, humor, and sarcasm, I talk about the joys (and sucks) of parenting, ways to live a simple & sane life, and awesome adventures to embark on with your family. Come aboard my crazy train! Wine and Gerber Puffs included.

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