In honor of Independence Day, I would like to talk a little about one of the most independent people that I know. My son Blake is only about sixteen months old, but he is already proving to be very independent. Even before he learned to walk (just after his first birthday), he liked to crawl into the playroom and play with the toys by himself whenever he felt like it. He loves to explore, especially in the yard, and can keep himself entertained for what I feel is an unusually long time for such a small fellow. Of course, that might be because his older brother, three and a half year old Dylan, has always had a very different view of independent play – he does not like it and wants Mommy to constantly look at what he’s doing. Blake just seems very interested in doing his own thing a lot of the time. He knows that I am always nearby and he comes over to see me (and give me hugs and kisses, which I love) often. As long as his explorations are going along safely, I feel no need to interrupt him as he goes about his business. In fact, I love watching him play and explore because it’s almost as if I can see him absorbing information about the world around him as he does it.
Since Blake is sixteen months old, there are a few things that he thinks that he can do all by himself that he can not actually do safely. I am sure that many of you who are parents of toddlers are experiencing this right now and it is definitely challenging territory. While I am all about supporting Blake’s independent endeavors when they are safe, things that could be dangerous do warrant intervention. Of course, I want to be careful not to harm his independent spirit, so I have to think through each intervention. Sometimes there is a way that I can make the scenario safe for him to do it himself, like trailing behind him as he goes up a flight of stairs. Sometimes, though, what he is trying to do is so dangerous (like running towards the road or reaching for the stove) that I have to swoop in quickly and hold him tight as I explain (in a serious but gentle tone) why what he was doing is unsafe. He does not much care for that approach, and I am not sure whether he hears the messages that I try to convey to him because he’s usually writhing about and howling.
As frustrating as dealing with a toddler’s desire to be independent can be, it is important that we as parents do what we can to support our toddlers’ independent efforts when we can safely do so. If we are lucky, their independent spirits will serve them well in the future as they continue to explore and grow into competent, confident children who know that their loving parents are there to support them while at the same time honoring their independence. Do you have a very independent toddler?