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The Can-Do Kid: Nurturing Your Preschooler's Independence

Whether she's feeding Spot or buckling her booster, your preschooler wants to be more independent. But how much should you let her handle?
Set the table Sudden Independence

Yesterday, my 4-year-old son, Zachary, tried to cook a frozen waffle in a frying pan. He had tiptoed from his bedroom and turned on the stove when I was sleeping. Fortunately, our range is so noisy that it woke me up in time to stop him. The experience blindsided me, though: A few weeks ago, Zachary couldn't be bothered to get a juice box out of the fridge. "Children this age go from 0 to 60 on the independence scale, so it's vital to talk to them about safety rules before they get any big ideas," says Daniel Coury, M.D., chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio. "But you don't want to scare them off. They are ready for more responsibility." Where do you draw the line? Safety experts help you set smart limits for tasks that preschoolers want to do on their own.