Give Your Toddler the Opportunity to Experience Competence

Laura Markham's picture

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Research has shown that toddlers tantrum less and cooperate more when they feel more powerful. There are three key ways you can help your toddler experience herself as a person with healthy power in the world:

  1. Listen to her.
  2. Let her make choices whenever possible.
  3. Give her the opportunity to experience competence.

It may sound odd, but toddlers need daily experience with work to start thinking of themselves as competent people. Not burdensome work, but rather work in the spirit of Maria Montessori, or Tom Sawyer, who turned white-washing a fence into a reward.

Start with ordinary household tasks, not because he can really help you at this point -- he may well make a mess. But consider the benefits:

  • Toddlers are fascinated by household tasks because they see you -- their heroine - doing them. They WANT to help.
  • Your budding scientist uses ordinary life to figure out how the world works.
  • You're doing the work anyway, so you can help them and bond over the task. They love being with you and this counts as quality time!
  • They're constructively occupied.
  • They're gaining skills for the future; it's educational.

What kinds of household tasks?

  • Making themselves a snack, such as peeling fruit or an egg, or slicing soft cheese and making sandwiches with crackers.
  • Helping wash pots and pans or other unbreakable dishes.
  • Pairing the socks as you fold clothes.
  • Picking out fruit at the grocery store.
  • Washing the table or floor.

The end result? Your toddler says "I did it!" and begins to think of herself -- and to become -- a more capable, powerful person. And you get a more delightful toddler.

Dr. Laura Markham