Encouraging Independence in Toddlers and Preschoolers…

Sometimes being an early years professional rubs off on how I parent J. Other times the ‘teacher’ in me shakes her head at the things I do and say! However something I’ve continued from my work is believing that independence is something that should be encouraged in toddlers/preschoolers.


These need to be appropriate for young children and the individual child. It will depend on their physical skills and understanding so please don’t see this post as a ‘to do’ list but a ‘things to try and tweak’ sheet.

1. Personal Care

This can be simple things like pull up and down their own trousers/leggings, getting on and off potty/toilet themselves or having a try with the toothbrush. I encourage J to wash his own hands and teach him to rub his hands together, not just hold them under the tap (and also to dry them after). I’ll wash my own hands whilst J washes his so he can see the actions I’m doing. Now J is getting towards 3 I am helping him to blow his own nose with a tissue, wash himself with the sponge etc.

By doing these skills children have a sense of achievement leading to boost in self esteem. It also makes life easier at preschool or nursery. Good personal care can also help reduce pesky viruses and illness so it’s good to start early.

2. Getting dressed

I encourage J to help with dressing and undressing. He takes his shoes off by himself (sometimes I have to loosen Velcro if it’s too sticky) and has a try putting his shoes on. He can put looser shoes on by himself. If your little one isn’t quite ready to get shoes on themselves then try working backwards. You put shoe on foot and child does the Velcro, then lead to you putting shoe on toes and child then pushing foot in and so on.

I get J to pull his arms out of his jumpers if they are loose enough. Usually I have to do the first arm but he then does the second one. It makes dressing and undressing take a LOT longer but if we’re not in a rush or not going anywhere then that’s not a problem. Dressing and undressing is a great way of building up fine manipulative skills. It develops the hand and finger muscles and coordination for buttons, zips and (unrelated but relevant) pencil control.

3. Helping around the house


Chores and housework are never the most exciting things in the world. However for young children it can be fun and something to explore. J helps me with the following:

  • Loading/unloading washing machine
  • Holding the wash basket when I get clothes off line
  • Bring out empty plate and bowls from living room.
  • Putting quilt and pillow back on the bed (eventually leading to getting him to make the bed).
  • Tidying up his bedroom
  • Tidying up his toy, putting shoes in shoe box etc
  • Deweeding garden (be warned that you will need to be very specific over what plants they can/can’t pull out, haha)
  • Hovering (this is one I wish he wouldn’t help with but he’s better when he can ‘control’ loud noises).

By starting young means that it becomes routine. As he gets older there will (hopefully) be less fuss as I add new chores. J loves when he’s praised for helping so it builds self confidence. It also helps to create respect for our home and belongings.

4. Helping outside of the house

I love the days when my husband is off work and I can go shopping on my own. J has 2 modes. Helpful J or Nightmare J. I have to make sure several things happen ranging from taking the right distraction toys and having a trolley with a seat to avoiding certain aisles and having a baggy jumper for him to hide under when needed. But that’s a whole other blog post. When he is in a helpful mood and there’s nothing to set off his sensory issues then he helps:

  • Hold shopping list (hint here: create a visual shopping list with pictures or pecs cards)
  • Get shopping off the shelf
  • Put things in the trolley (although particular items will be kept with him in the seat so he can talk to them or lick them…don’t ask!)
  • Give him choices to make eg: chose crisps for the week, which fruit he wants.
  • Weigh the fruit/veg and stick the label on the bag.
  • Handing over money to pay (on the rare times I don’t use my card).

By having J involved it teaches him shopping skills, language, problem solving, interactions and, as in all my points so far, a positive self image that he is valued.

5. Preschool/Nursery

J has had a break from preschool as he’s previous one closed down in July. He starts at his new nursery in January (edit: J is now in his third term of nursery). I used to get J to help put his own things on his peg, take off his hat and coat (with help), put away his diary etc. I hope to build on this when he starts again. With his Autism I want him to have a set of routines that will help establish his sense of belonging at the nursery. It may take a while before he is able to really communicate his needs to the staff so I want him to be able to do things himself and find things he needs.


Don’t underestimate the importance of confidence, positive self image and self esteem. It is all linked to resilience. This is the part of a person that helps them deal with life and how they will react to difficulties they may face. This is important for all children. J will need to be resilient as he faces new people and new situations. In years to come I won’t be there to deal with them for him (although I’ll be in his corner at all times) so he needs to be able to have coping mechanisms. Hopefully the skills he has gained through his independence will help.

If you ever want to know more about what is ‘expected’ at what age for under 5’s this online booklet is really helpful (you’ll find most self care type skills in Personal, Social and Emotional Development and Physical Development sections).

What do your children do that encourages independence? ❤️
To find more fantastic Family Friendly blogs go wander over to Wandering Wednesday with Confessions of Parenting.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Anitra says:

    As a Montessori teacher, these ideas are great to incorporate into your home, and these traits will carry over to when they go to school. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mummyest2014 says:

      Thanks, I loved studying the Montessori beliefs when I was in university x

      Like

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