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Positive Language: Strategies to Support Independent Toddlers

By breakfast time, I’ve already lost count of how many times my daughter has exclaimed, “I do it myself!” At two years old, her desire to complete specific tasks independently often surpasses her physical abilities. She also sees her older brother as a peer and becomes incredibly frustrated when she requires assistance of any kind. Though some days are easier than others, my own goal remains the same: embrace my daughter’s independent nature, while keeping her safe and maintaining our family’s daily routine.

5 Positive Language Strategies to Support Independent Toddlers

Let them try.

When this phase began, I tried to embrace my daughter’s persistence by pausing and letting her “try” to complete challenging tasks independently. However, the moment she began to fumble with her car seat buckles or a sock was stuck on her big toe, I found myself asking, “Do you want some help?” We were missing an important step: trying again! By suggesting, “Let’s try again!”, we introduce the concept of problem solving and acknowledge that there isn’t always a quick-fix. We often need to try again (and try differently!) as we work through a challenge.   

Slow down.

Though it can be frustrating and time-consuming to watch a toddler struggle, pause to observe and acknowledge effort. Describe the specific strategies that your toddler is using to complete a task independently.

Examples:

“I see that you’re squeezing this tube of toothpaste with your strong hand muscles.”
If your toddler is successful you can say, “You did it! I see some toothpaste coming out of the tube!”
If he or she is still struggling, you can encourage your toddler to try again or gently suggest a different strategy, “Try squeezing with two hands!” 

Share your safety plan.

Many toddlers become angry or emotional (or both!) when they are physically scooped up without warning. If your toddler is approaching a danger zone, such as a tall playground structure, get down on his level and clearly express how you plan to support him in this setting.

Examples:

 “I hear that you want to climb by yourself. Mama is going to stand next to you, just to keep you safe.” 

“I’m going to hold your hand while you cross the balance beam. Now you can jump down on your own!

Offer just enough help.

Scaffold your toddler’s efforts by offering just enough help. If you notice that she’s attracted to a bookshelf that’s just out of reach, place a sturdy step stool nearby. She may notice it on her own, or you might say, “I wonder if the step stool will help…” 

Prepare to be surprised.

When given the opportunity to do hard things, young children often rise to the occasion! It’s also important to consider that every “failure”- big and small- is an opportunity to build resilience and flexibility. 

Join us for our upcoming webinar, Positive Language Strategies for Your Independent Toddler. We’ll discuss realistic tips for challenging toddler-specific scenarios and share respectful, meaningful ways to support your toddler’s independent nature.  

For additional language support, check out our Guide to Positive Language Strategies. Whether you’re hoping to tackle challenging moments or enhance everyday conversations, we’ve got you covered!

About the Author
Lauren Vien taught in private Manhattan preschools for over a decade before joining the Rose & Rex team as Education Director. With a masters in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from NYU, Lauren is deeply passionate about positive language and developmental play. She lives on the Upper West Side with her husband and two young children, Henry and Violet. Family pastimes include building with couch cushions, preparing plant-based meals, and scooting to neighborhood playgrounds.
 
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