By learning to act independently, your child will grow up with a strong enough inner compass to know what she wants and to make sound judgments on her own. Perhaps the most effective attribute you can pass on to your child -- one that helps him be patient, responsible, and self-sufficient -- is the ability to solve problems. If your 14-month-old is getting impatient because she can't play with another child's toy, acknowledge her unhappiness, but encourage her to look for other solutions, suggests Phillips.
Help your child break tasks into small steps, and then let her master each step on her own. If she can figure out how to pull down her own towel, open the cookie jar, or spread jelly on her toast, she'll feel more autonomous and confident about tackling bigger tasks around the house.
You can also help build self-reliance by giving your child age-appropriate things to do. At age 1, that may mean learning to eat with a spoon, and a year later, putting on a loose-fitting shirt. Make things as easy as possible -- buy shoes with self-fasteners instead of laces, for example -- and be prepared to assist when necessary. If your toddler desperately wants a cookie, pick her up so she can open the cabinet, grab the package, and pick one out by herself.
One of the best ways for your child to learn self-reliance is by modeling your behavior. If you're having trouble, say, assembling your new computer, talk to yourself out loud, walking yourself through the steps, so your child can see you going through the process of solving the problem.
While you're at it, don't forget to foster your child's individuality. Remember that it's important to solicit and acknowledge her opinions. If you see her grab the same shirt again and again, say "That must be your favorite." When she's older, you can encourage more sophisticated decisions. When shopping, ask your toddler to select a shirt from a choice of two. Inquire whether she'd rather play with her Frisbee or a ball.
Trouble is, teaching these qualities can be time-consuming -- letting kids solve their own problems takes time -- and that's something parents just don't have. But you'll be helping your child more if you resist jumping in and doing things for her. Lucky for you, your parents taught you patience and empathy. See how those lessons come in handy?
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