Whole Parenting Family

Teaching Toddler Independence & Toothbrushing

As we approach having two children, I contemplate how SuperBoy’s natural inclination toward independence will play out. He will be almost 2 years old by the time his sister arrives. And although he loves to do things on his own, and we encourage him, on the whole, he is accustomed to having assistance with most things. Slowly but surely AA and I have been working on independence in particular areas: feeding himself, picking out his clothing, getting things ready for a diaper change (and putting them away), brushing his teeth, and self-selected play.

1) Feeding himself.

He sometimes spends breakfast on my lap, eating his oatmeal & yogurt & fruit combo while we read the paper or a magazine together. Yes, his favorite subscription is Hockey Quarterly (or whatever it’s called that my dad brings over)–he likes to point out all the hockey gear. But he’s just as happy to sit on one of our chairs at the table as well. Occasionally he still eats in his high chair, but that’s more so I can maneuver laundry, chores, and the dogs without him sharing his entree with them (yes, he likes to do this too . . . mostly on their heads). We’ve tried a little person sized table and chair, but one issue I’ve encountered is that some of his plates and bowls don’t have no-skid bottoms so food ends up eluding him.

Forks, spoons, cups without tops, finger food, you name it and he likes to explore it. I’d say the only thing he doesn’t successfully eat alone is soup that’s clear broth based. It’s really wonderful to see him say “YUM!” after taking a bite of something. I love how he loves to eat!

2) Clothing & diapers.

We have a dresser that’s his height and whose drawers he can open without dropping them on his toes. It has taken some practice, but now he’s able to rip through and demolish any semblance of organization within them–or, in the alternative–get out an outfit or two, three, four. He also is getting better about fetching his cloth diapers. In his room we put a changing pad on top of his dresser, and he’ll get his cloth wipes and spray bottle “ready” for a change, and in the kitchen where he spends most of the day, he will both get out his changing pad, diaper, and wipes, and put them back in his designated basket.

It’s not consistent, nor is it always with a willing heart, but he’s at least hearing the terminology for dressing himself, and helping diaper himself. He had (emphasis on the past tense) expressed interest in potty training, but that has dwindled and if asked whether or not he’d like to go potty on his toilet, the answer, like the answer to everything, is NO. That’s fine. When he’s ready, we’ll tackle that.

3) Brushing teeth.

This has been really fun to watch unfold. AA came up with a routine for SuperBoy brushing his own teeth. It involves J getting his stool and placing it at the foot of the sink, AA wetting & putting a small pea size amount of Tom’s of Maine children’s toothbrush on his tooth brush, and then the two of them alternating on who gets to brush. AA has even shown him how to keep his mouth slightly open while brushing such that he doesn’t swallow ALL the spittle & deliciousness of the toothpaste. They have a negotiation going such that if SuperBoy refuses to let Dadda help him, then the toothbrush goes away. The threat of an early night for the toothbrush does wonders.

4) Self-selected play.

He loves to play on his own, to an extent, and has come up with a number of his own games. See here. Luckily he’s an avid reader as well. Between throwing poker chips on the floor from the height of his Learning Tower and making his way through “Frog and Toad Are Friends” he can conceivably be happy for periods of time without my complete attention. The AAP talks about the crucial importance of unstructured playtime in its statement on Media Use. See here.

I’m realistic in knowing that I will definitely be dealing with two crying children at once, but hope that having promoted exploration and unstructured playtime with toys, books, and household wares will pay off.

SuperBoy isn’t fully independent by any stretch (which would be weird if he were, given his age), but in certain areas he has grown to be more independent. Any ideas about other areas to work on before he’s not an only child?


  1. Molly on March 14, 2012 at 8:41 am

    I’d like to see a video of him “self-diapering” … Wondertot!

    • Novice Natural Mama on March 14, 2012 at 8:47 am

      Ha! Well, he’s not totally elimination communicationed like your daughter . . . but still.

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