Young children want to try doing many things for themselves. An eighteen-month-old wants to push buttons, put a key in the keyhole, walk down the steps, and turn the light on.
A two-year old wants to assert his independence by pulling the wrapper off his candy, taking his shirt off, and putting a DVD in the player, while a three-year-old wants to put his shoes on, get his own vitamin out of the jar, use the computer, and pour his own juice. Sometimes children are successful at the tasks they choose for themselves, and at other times they struggle in frustration because they lack skills and dexterity. Still, the drive to do for themselves is very strong: “Don’t help me!”
Parents who respect their child’s desire to do things for himself help him develop a strong sense of autonomy. Since self-image is partly determined by the way you respond to your child’s desire for independence, your child will feel good about himself when he’s allowed to tackle jobs on his own. On the other hand, if you discourage your child too often, and do for him what he wants to do on his own or do for him what he’s capable of doing, he’ll begin to doubt his own abilities. When children doubt themselves during these years, it impacts their self-esteem during their elementary school years. Therefore, the message, “You’re capable,” needs to be strong during the early years.
In general, you should let your child at least start a task he’s interested in. If he’s unsuccessful, offer guidance, and if he’s unable to follow your suggestions, offer to do the job for him. Don’t jump in too soon because you find it difficult to watch your child struggle with a task. You may naturally want to help, but often your child doesn’t want help. If you find it too hard to stay uninvolved, occupy yourself with something else while your child works.