Toddlers

A three year old girl in a yellow jacket and flowered yellow and pink boots jumps in a puddle.
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12 Things You Should Just Let Your Toddler Do

Sometimes, the best lessons we can teach our kids are the ones they learn on their own

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Being a parent to a toddler can be an incredibly negative experience. Not negative in the sense that it sucks (though sometimes it does; we really don’t know how they have that much energy at 5:30 in the morning), but negative in the sense that you're always saying "no." And this is necessary. Sometimes, we become so used to “no” being necessary that we just fling it out without thinking. But, every now and then, the answer is “yes.” There are things you should just let your toddler do... this isn’t always easy.

Having an infant is all about routine, right? You find your groove and you really wedge yourself in there because it's the only thing holding your life together. But as your child becomes a toddler, they become more adaptable and that routine gets a tad more flexible. The question becomes: will you flex along with it? Change is not adults’ strong suit. But, from my own experience, a shake-up can be beneficial, not just to help your kids grow and expand their horizons but for you to do the same.

Saying yes is hard, and for a variety of very legitimate reasons. It can be logistically annoying and, frankly, difficult to let go of the power "no" can give us. I'm not saying we should all become overly permissive hippies who let our children make the rules and raise themselves, but here are some things to consider giving a robust (if nervous) yes.

Say "No"

Usually we're the ones saying no (and with good reason: toddlers are maniacs). But it's important that your kids have the ability to say "no" sometimes, particularly when it comes to what happens with their own body.

Of course, sometimes that’s feasible and sometimes that’s not. Like, you can't let your toddler get a tattoo (even if they really, really want one), and you can insist that they get their vaccines (even if they really, really don't want them). But when it comes to who touches them and when, they should be able to make those calls. This is the first steps in teaching bodily autonomy and consent, and you can never start too early on either of those topics.

Try

Nine times out of 10, it is far easier for a parent to do something for a toddler than to let the toddler do it themselves. Like, literally any task. In toddler speak “all by myself” is shorthand for messy, slow, uncoordinated, and prone to minor injuries.

But how else are they going to learn?

It's hard, as a parent and as a person who wants to accomplish what should be a 30 second task in under 30 minutes, to just let a kid work through something, but letting them try things on their own is a necessary step towards our children gaining full independence. And that's one of our ultimate parenting goals, right?

Fail

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Yoda once said, "The greatest teacher, failure is," and it's true. You learn what to do by figuring out all the ways not to do it. Sometimes failure is simple and doesn't hurt too much. Other times it will go against every fiber of our mama being to not swoop in and help our kids out, or even preempt that possibility by preventing them from trying and failing.

Fight this.

Because, ultimately, it's not only important that they learn from failure but that they learn how to fail and when to be OK with it.

Choose

I know it's easier to dictate things a lot of the time. Wear this, do this activity, go here, eat this, etc. But choosing and, moreover, understanding that you are entitled to choice is another lesson that should be learned early to promote independent thinking and empowered kids.

Granted, you're not going to be able to let them pick everything (when will my daughter learn that tights are not a substitute for pants...?) but sometimes I think it's a good thing to let our kids hop in the diver's seat. You'd be surprised how often it's really OK to let go of the control (and how freeing that can actually be).

Get Messy

I feel like this is especially important for toddler girls, who are taught from an early age that it's more important to be pretty/decorative than to do things. All kids should be free to get a little schmutzy from time to time. It's a great way to explore nature, get physical, and create beautiful art. Again, you don't have to indulge every opportunity for mess, but while cracking an egg on the front of their shirt can seem like a pointless headache (and a waste of food to boot), letting them get dirty could spark an interest in biology. "Well what is an egg? How is it made? Why is there a yellow part and a clear white part? What is it made of?"

Nurturing a scientific mind is worth a little mess.

Make Noise

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Ditto everything I said about making a mess, only replace science, art, and nature with music!

Take A Spill

I'm not saying you need to let your kid plummet head-first off the roof or anything like that. Certainly you have to protect them from danger, serious pain, and long-term harm. But I think getting a little bit hurt from time to time when you do something ill-advised is a great way to learn not to do it anymore. Or, perhaps, how to do it more safely or masterfully. As Lady Allen Hurtwood once said, better a broken bone than a broken spirit.

Explore Their Bodies

Tale as old as time: parent enters the room only to find their toddler engaged some very intimate self discovery. Awk.ward.

Now, if you'd walked in on an adult doing the same it would certainly be a sexual situation, but it's not with toddlers. All the sexual baggage we associate (for better and for worse) with self-pleasure as grown-ups just isn't present for children: they just know it feels good.

Let them carry on, but make them aware that it's a private activity. Allowing them do their thing isn't promoting sexual deviance and it's not age inappropriate — it's reinforcing the idea that they get to control what happens to their body, that the body is pleasurable, and that some things about our bodies, while completely normal and cool, are private.

Explore Their World

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Look, I know that the world feels like a terrifying dumpster fire a lot of the time. Why would we want our babies to getting a closer look at *frantically waves arms all around*. But it’s not always. Sometimes it's a beautiful miracle and we need to drink it in down to the marrow. Let your kids out in nature. Get them used to the chaotic beauty of cities. Let them figure out what they love.

Join Adult Conversation

It's easy to shoo a little one away from the kitchen table while the adults are talking, and sometimes it's very necessary because OMG, kid, I need three seconds where I'm not talking about Care Bears. But I think there's value in exposing a child to (and engaging them in) age appropriate adult conversation and also hearing what they have to say in such a situation. Sometimes it's insightful, yes, but mostly it's hilarious and those quotes make for great tweets and status updates.

Know The Truth

Your child need not have the jaded experience of a world-weary film noir detective, but I think knowing some age-appropriate version of the truth is always a good thing. For example, you don't have to go into gritty detail about how babies are made, but you can say something like: "They come out of their parents' bodies." It's true and that will probably satisfy a toddler. When they're ready for more information you can build from a good foundation.

Toddlers are smarter than we often give them credit for, so we should give them the opportunity to work with that by being open and honest with them.

(That said, I’m 100% keeping Santa. Sometimes it’s not so much a lie as a good time.)

Help

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Look, is my toddler going to “help” with literally any task that needs to be done around the house? No. In fact they’re almost certainly going to be creating more work for me because I’ll have to redo whatever they’ve done in an attempt to pitch in. But the sooner I give them a taste of house work and odd jobs around the house the sooner they’re used to it and the sooner they might just be able to help out in earnest.

And seriously, what wouldn’t I give for an extra pair of hands around the house?

Yes is hard when it comes to our toddlers, but in the end it’s well worth the effort.