Tuesday 24 September 2013

Supporting My Independent Toddler

At 20 months old, Ebony is starting to assert her independence. She is pushing boundaries, setting new limits, and trying to find her place in the world.

She wants to do everything herself now. When we wake up in the morning, she wants to get herself dressed. This often means that for the first hour of every day, until I can coax her into something more suitable, she wears a jumper on her bottom half, three socks on one foot (and none on the other), a cardigan, and a knitted hat. And putting together that unique and daring ensemble, can take anything up to an hour in itself.

She wants to stand at the sink, and select her own toothbrush (which usually means mine gets chewed heartily before being discarded at her excessively socked foot). She wants to clean her own teeth, which she does terribly. She wants to wash her own hands, which seems to consist of pushing the plug down, filling the sink up and then miming washing her hands while making a “wooosh” noise to compensate for the lack of actual handwashing.

She wants to decide what we do each day, “Mummy? Shoes. Park!”. She wants to choose which shoes she wears to the park (wellies, whatever the weather), and she wants to zip up her own coat (which she can’t do, and this often ends in a frustrated wail; “Mummmmmy! ZIPS!” She wants to walk out of the front door by herself. She wants to open the garden gate, and stride confidently down the pavement, all by herself.

She will, usually, hold my hand while we walk near roads, but not always. Sometimes she will sit still on the pavement to avoid holding my hand. Other times she will walk only on tip toes, or backwards, or run as fast as she can (not very) next to the road, as I work out how quickly I could intercept her should she choose to run for the road.

She doesn’t always want to get in the carrier now, she likes to walk herself. She wants to sit on her own seat on the bus, and press the button, “Beeps, mummy!” She wants to make her own friends now, “Hello, boy!” she confidently announces to every passing child, regardless of their sex.

She wants to explore things by herself. She doesn’t want to be helped up the slide, or to be shown how something works, she wants to conquer her own world.

But she wants to do all of this, with me in her sight. She wants me to stay close, but stand back and not interfere. She needs to know I’ll be there to kiss her better when she falls, or carry her home if she is tired, or procure food for her if she’s hungry. She will march off at playgroups, but will turn to me with a look of indignation, “Mummy! NO! Muuuummy!” should another child dare to treat her unfairly. I am summoned to help each time someone gets in her way, or steals her turn on the slide.

She is proud of her independence. When she does something new, she looks for me, so we can share in her moment of triumph. “Eba,” she says, nodding, each time she does something herself, “Eba.” And, if she feels she is being cheated of her independence, “EBA? EBA!” she shrieks while trying to fasten herself into the car seat, hold her own umbrella or cook dinner.

There are some things, of course, that she can’t do yet. And those things are a struggle, with Ebony fighting for her independence, and me fighting to keep her safe. She wants to walk down the street, but must do so holding my hand. She wants to cook dinner, but can only cut soft vegetables with her own knife. She wants to climb, higher and higher, but can only do so in safe(ish) places.

I want to give her her independence, and let her explore the world - but safely, as I watch from a distance. I want to be there to help her when she discovers she doesn’t yet have the fine motor skills to zip up a coat. I want to let her walk the whole way to the greengrocers, even if it turns a 20 minute task into a two and half hour round trip. I want to let her walk free from hand holding, even if that means we have to travel everywhere by country paths and back streets.

I want her to grow up knowing that she is trusted, and capable and independent. I want her to feel confident and self-assured, so I am supporting her independence now, even though I feel more than slightly terrified about how quickly she is growing up.

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