Rewards and Reasons
"I can do it!" All parents have heard this phrase from their toddlers. Sometimes it's shouted to convey, "Back off, I can handle this myself!" Other times it means, "Look what I can do! Aren't you proud of me?" Before they can speak, children seek independence, and often the first steps are in self-care exercises such as such as getting dressed, putting away toys, or washing hands.
Dr. Nicholas Long, PhD, professor of pediatrics and director of pediatric psychology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' College of Medicine says, "the exact ages vary, but the desire to start doing things on their own often starts before the age of one, when they start eating finger foods, and increases as they are able to physically do more."
Big-kid skills are developmentally important for children. Dr. Long says, "As infants, children are totally dependent on their parents for meeting all of their needs. As toddlers, they start down the path of becoming independent, so eventually they will be ready to separate from their parents and become independent adults."
Environmental, social, and physical factors can vary the speed at which a child becomes independent. For instance, a child with Velcro shoes may not learn to tie shoelaces by age six, as children with laced shoes normally do. But, according to Dr. Long, "If [toddlers] are not encouraged to become progressively more independent during the toddler and preschool years, they can develop some major difficulties later in childhood, like poor peer relationships and low self-esteem."