“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”Maria Montessori
One of the reasons why I am a big fan of the Montessori method is that they encourage independence in children from a young age. Some of their daily tasks involve activities like setting the table, cleaning their shoes, sweeping the floor, polishing different objects, self-care routines (washing their hands, brushing their teeth and hair etc) and so on.
These activities are called Practical Life. They not only help children acquire vital self help skills but also help them develop fine and gross motor skills, improve concentration, increase independence, give them a sense of pride when completing a task and develop an appreciation for the surroundings and community.
These help self skills activities don’t only belong in a Montessori school but can very well be used at home. With support and encouragement from our part, these self help skills will positively impact children both at home and in society.
In this post, we are going to focus on self help skills for toddlers, although most of this information is applicable to other age groups as well. We will discuss the importance of self help skills, the most important self help skills that toddlers should master and tips that will help us, parents, encourage independence in our little ones.
Before we move on, I’d like to mention that the word “toddler” in this article refers to children with ages between 12 months and 3 years.
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The Importance of Self Help Skills for Toddlers
Helping kids master the skills needed to become independent has an incredibly positive impact on their development. Some of the benefits of self help skills in early childhood are:
- Developing fine and gross motor skills– activities like polishing a small vase or sweeping the floor require them to use both the small muscles of their fingers and hands and the bigger muscles of their arms and legs thus improving their fine and gross motor skills.
- Self-confidence– when toddlers are succesful in completing a task they will gain self-confidence thus they will be more inclined to try other things in the future.
- Self-esteem– being able to do things for themselves will give toddlers a sense of pride and in turn this will likely help them cope better with failure in the future.
- Greater autonomy– young kids often get frustrated when they want to do things for themselves but are unable. Mastering some self help skills will increase their autonomy so they will not depend on mom and dad for everything.
- Having responsibilities– it is important for kids to be an active part of the family and help out however they can. In addition to household chores, they will also understand the responsibility to take care of themselves like brushing their teeth, taking a shower, washing their hands etc.
- Greater initiative– being succesful in doing more and more things on their own will lead to the desire to try out other things as well.
- Encouraging healthy habits– practicing daily activities like recycling, eating healthy, self-grooming, keeping the environment clean will, hopefully, encourage kids to have long-lasting healthy habits.
- Being a productive member of the family– kids need to understand that each member of the family must pe productive and keeps the surroundings tidy. Children love to feel useful so don’t hesitate to give them the opportunity to help even if it’s something as small as putting a wrapper in the bin.
- Integrating into society– nowadays kids are expected to do more and more things on their own from a younger age. An example of this is that where we live, 3 year olds must be fully potty trained and able to dress and undress themselves to be accepted in kindergarten.
What are the most important self help skills for toddlers?
Although activities like using the toilet, dressing and undressing, feeding ourselves or dusting the house seem simple, automated actions, they need to be learnt and practised for years in order to become proficient at them.
Teaching self help skills to kids is a gradual process that begins as early as infancy and continues well into their teenage years. It requires a lot of dedication and patience on our part but at the same time, it is incredible to see each new self care milestone that our little ones achieve.
When it comes to self help skills for toddlers there are four main categories:
1. Self grooming and personal hygene
- washing their hands
- brushing their teeth
- washing their face
- taking a shower
- combing brushing their hair
- wiping a stain off their clothes
- wiping and blowing their nose in a napkin
- using the potty
- wiping their private parts
- covering theit mouths when coughing or sneezing
- keeping their nails clean (encourage them to use a nail scrubber brush to keep their nails nice and clean everyday)
- choosing their outfit based on the options that you provide
2. Dressing and undressing themselves
- putting on and taking off socks and shoes
- putting on and taking off different items of clothing like trousers, tops, dresses, skirts, jackets etc
- buttoning and unbuttoning
- tying and untying laces
- pulling a zipper up and down
- using snaps
3. Self feeding
- using child-friendly utensils to eat (this set of cutlery is fantastic for kids)
- using their fingers to feed themselves
- pouring water from a pitcher or a bottle into a cup
- drinking from a cup
- using a napkin to wipe their mouths
4. Helping around the house
- putting clothes in the laundry basket
- loading the washing machine
- putting own clothes back in the wardrobe
- pairing socks
- putting garbage in the bin
- wiping the table
- helping to set the table (under the parent’s strict supervision if handling china or knives)
- watering the plants
- feeding the pets
- putting their toys away
- taking care of their belongings
- sweeping and mopping (there are toddler-sized cleaning sets like this one from Melissa&Doug)
It is important to keep in mind that each child develops at different paces so while some kids may learn a new ability quickly, others may not be ready quite yet. Pushing the child might have detrimental effects. Instead, be patient and follow your child’s lead.
11 Tips on how to develop self help skills for toddlers
We want our children to be able to take care of themselves but many times it is not easy accompanying our littles on the journey to becoming independent. Some kids are reluctant to try anything new in which case parents need to gently encourage them while others can be a little too enthusiastic and try to take on tasks that they may not be ready for yet.
I have gathered here 11 tips that actually work on how to encourage kids to be independent and become productive members of society.
You probably noticed that I have used this word a few times before in this post. Well, that’s because patience is the key to helping our kids to conquer these skills.
Some kids need more time to master some skills than others. However, with our patience and perseverance, all children eventually acquire these self help skills.
2. Give them the time and space to practice
We are leading busy lives, constantly on the move, constantly rushing each other. The morning scenario when you are getting ready to drop your child at nursery, already running late but your little one takes 10 minutes to put on a sock may sound familiar. What do you do? You rush them and most likely take the socks out of their hands and put them on their feet. This may cause some tears, frustration and a ruined start of the day. Not to mention that the child has missed the opportunity to practice that particular skill.
So, what can you do? If you know that you have a child who loves being independent and doing things for themselves, start the getting ready routine early to allow him/her to get dressed or eat on his/her own. Of course, you will offer your help where needed but you will also give him/her the space (and time) to try on his/her own.
3. Take your child’s age and level of development into consideration
When teaching your toddler self-help skills, it is vital to consider their age and level of development. An 18-month-old toddler will not be able to do the same activities as a 3-year-old.
Besides the age factor, we also need to remember that each child develops at different rates so, unless we are talking about significant delays, children will master a certain skill when they are ready and not when books/friends/neighbours tell us they should.
4. Try not to compare your child to others
Sometimes, I know it’s difficult not to “peek” into your mom friends’ lives and see what their kids can do. But comparing our kids’ abilities to others can be detrimental. If your friend’s child can eat unassisted at two years of age but your little one seems far from achieving that, don’t get anxious and pressure the child. Just remember that each child develops at his/her own pace and they will eventually tick off each skill and milestone.
5. Have realistic expectations
Setting the bar too high for our children may bring a lot of frustration on both ends and chip away some of their confidence thus resulting in their refusal to try again.
6. Break it down into small, simple steps
An activity like taking off a t-shirt may seem easy to us but to a toddler, it is a complicated task that requires a lot of coordination. If you see your little one getting a little bit frustrated with such an activity, consider breaking it down into smaller steps.
Take, for example, taking off a t-shirt. You will encourage them to use their hand to reach across their body and grab their sleeve (step 1), pull the sleep down (step 2) and pull their arm in (step 3). Then, use the same hand to grab the bottom of the shirt (step 4) and pull the shirt over their head (step 5). Of course, this will look a lot more fluid when demonstrating it to your little one.
7. Lead by example
Since kids are like “mini me’s” copying everything that we do we might as well take advantage of this and model some important self help skills. Make a point of doing tasks like brushing your teeth, washing your hands before every meal in front of your kids and underlining why you are doing them.
8. Use rewards
Using rewards is a personal choice. While for some parents it works, others consider them detrimental. Some great rewards are charts (you can get these reward charts for free-scroll down and look for the download form), visual schedules are fantastic not only as a reward but also to bring some structure to your day and free reward phone apps.
9. Know when to intervene and when not to
It is important to follow your child’s cues and know when it’s best to let them try on their own and when they need you to step in and help. Although we want our kids to build up independence, there are moments when they are tired, for example, and can’t do an otherwise simple task which will certainly lead to frustration. Or it is a skill that they haven’t yet fully grasped and may need more support from us.
10. Involve them in your daily tasks
No matter what we do, floors won’t sweep themselves and beds won’t make themselves. And since kids tend to follow us everywhere, you can turn these activities into teachable moments. Ask them to hold the dustpan when sweeping or to take the pillows off the bed when changing the bedsheets. The older the child the more complicated tasks she/he will be able to do. Kids love to help so this is a great way to make them feel included and teach them valuable skills at the same time.
11. Praise them
Remember that even a simple task like hanging up a jacket takes a lot of coordination so be sure to praise your little one for each victory. However, there is such a thing as over-praising and kids can tell when this is happening. Like with everything in life, there needs to be a balance.
Self help skills and my toddler
My little superstar is just coming out of toddlerhood and I am amazed at how much he’s grown in every way. He is now able to do most of the things listed above in the “Important self help skills for toddlers” section of this article with little or no help from me.
He had his own learning pace, meaning that some skills were mastered quickly like washing his hands, drinking from a cup, feeding himself while others are still giving him a hard time like getting a long sleeve top off or cleaning himself properly after a nb 2.
However, I am confident that with enough practice and encouragement he will conquer all the self help skills that a toddler should know.
I found out the hard way how important it is for kids to master particular self help skills by a certain age. Unfortunately, society doesn’t wait for kids to go their own pace and in some cases will exclude them from certain places or activities.
My son was a relatively late bloomer when it came to potty training (read our potty training story). At 3 years of age, he still had frequent accidents. So when I went to enrol him in kindergarten, they gave me two options: either he stays dirty the whole day as nobody will help him change or we go to a private kindergarten. Not much of an option, is it? Obviously, we went private and it was the best decision we could’ve made.
From this experience, I’ve learnt the importance of teaching children self help skills as early as possible, even if in the beginning it’s just you modelling the activity and offering full support.
Even though all self help skills are important, as far as I’m concerned, personal hygiene and self-feeding are probably the most valuable as they allow the toddler to be accepted and successfully integrate into different environments like kindergarten or sports classes for example.
It is certainly an amazing journey watching our littles becoming more and more independent with each passing day. I won’t lie, teaching kids self help skills requires a lot of patience and practise but you will soon see the fruit of your labour. And let me tell you, that’s when “proud momma moments” happen.
Hopefully, these tips for self help skills for toddlers will help and you will watch your little sunshine blossom into a confident and independent child ready to take on the world.
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Mom of two wonderful children, dedicated teacher and book lover.