Inside: The most important life skills your toddler needs you to teach them.
More than ever before, we are the main teachers in our children’s lives. From experience, I know that you always want your child to meet milestones and keep up with other children. You don’t want to be the reason they haven’t learned how to do something.
Of course, children learn at different rates but sometimes, without knowing it, you can hold your child back by simply not realising that you should have taught them something in particular.
I have recently had this happen with my 7 year old. She came home from school and told me that her teacher had asked her to practice tying her shoelaces at home so she could do them herself for P.E.
I was mortified! How had I forgotten to teach her such a basic skill? I taught her there and then and as she was older it actually made the learning process quicker than if I’d taught her earlier.
But still, it made me realise that without someone reminding me or somewhere to tell me of the things they ‘should‘ learn at different ages, I didn’t know where to begin!
So, with my background in early years education, having children arrive in my class without certain skills, I thought I’d compile a list of the main areas that you can help with at home.
Life skills for a toddler
At the end of the day, our role as parents is to raise our children to be happy & independent ready for adulthood, right? For this to happen, we need to set those foundations early on – give them the skills they need for each stage in their lives.
Practical life skills for toddlers
As toddlers become increasingly able, we can gently show them how to do the things that we have been doing for them up to this point. This can be done through modelling, accessibility and fun toddler activities.
Key practical skills for them to master:
GETTING DRESSED. From experience, most little ones enjoy trying to get themselves dressed and the key is to make it easy and fun for them. If they make a mistake, don’t correct it unless you really must (going to a wedding and they’ll be in a photo etc).
My children have all walked around with their tops on backwards or inside out at one time or another.
Make their clothes easy to access by either laying out an outfit the night before or having drawers at their height for them to access. Help them if they ask but always make sure they have given it a good go themselves first.
PUTTING ON SHOES. As with getting dressed, toddlers love putting on shoes. They will always prefer shoes that are easy to put on – this is why you’ll often see them in wellies or crocs all year round!
Have their shoes in an easy to reach place and let them know that you are there to help if they should need you. Stick to slip-on shoes and those with velcro for now. Laces come later on (but not as late at 7!!)
BRUSHING TEETH. This is such an easy one to teach as it is all done through modelling. They will have watched you cleaning your teeth since they were able to understand and will improve their technique as time goes on.
Make it easier for them by having their toothbrush and toothpaste at a level they can reach and provide a stool so they can climb up and reach the taps.
TOILET TRAINING. My children have all learned at different ages, some did it quickly and others took their time. All were right, all got there.
Deciding when to start toilet training is unique to each child and you really need to know your child and their level of maturity to work out whether they are ready.
If they are showing signs of discomfort when in soiled nappies and are able to understand and communicate clearly then you can give it a try.
Set them up for success by having a potty nearby at all times. We had one upstairs, downstairs and also a portable one to take out and about with us. Make sure their clothes aren’t restrictive – they don’t want to battle to get their pants down.
We also used our smart speaker to set up reminders and that was one of the keys to our success I am sure of it.
FIXING A SNACK. There are some things around the house that they can begin to do by themselves and getting their own snacks is definitely one of them.
Have appropriate snacks in a low cupboard (with the understanding they ask you before they just help themselves) along with plastic bowls and plates for them to use.
TIDYING UP. With 3 kids I know the value of teaching kids to tidy up after themselves. They make the mess, they clear up the mess. It is easier said than done though and you need to constantly remind them and make life easier with a few changes.
– Have a place for everything. If they know exactly where their things belong then they will be able to tidy up quickly and easily.
– Label cupboards and drawers with photos of the things that belong in there. Visual clues are everything and speed up the process.
– Less is more. They don’t need every toy under the sun. If they have a smaller amount to play with then they will play with more intention but also they won’t become so overwhelmed at tidy up time.
Fine motor skills for a toddler
Fine motor is the use of their fingers to do small, intricate movements that us adults take for granted. It is only through strengthening exercises that hand and finger muscles increase and precision improves.
Fine motor skills are needed for many things, including:
– buttons, zippers and poppers
– holding cutlery
– holding a pencil
– using scissors
There are many different exercises you can give them – all through the element of play. Learning at this age is all about fun!
Playdough is great for strength as the squashing and squeezing forces them to make a fist. We love using Dough Disco to make it fun!
Tongs help with that scissor movement (with less disastrous consequences!). Get them to use the tongs to pick up objects and move them from one container to another.
Tweezers help to teach them to make smaller and more precise movements. Use them to pick up tiny beads. Use this opportunity to each sorting of colours perhaps!
Lacing cards were one of my favourite things to play with as a child. Use the laces to thread in and out of the holes to create a shape that aligns with the picture on the card. This will help them with handwriting further down the line.
Emotional skills for toddlers
Toddlers go through tremendous developmental changes in a short space of time and their little brains can get overwhelmed easily, resulting in tantrums and big emotional outbursts.
One of the simplest things we can do as parents is to listen. We can guide them through any feeling by simply being there to listen to how they feel. “I understand you are feeling angry about ……..” or “I know you feel sad about …….”.
Sometimes just confirming their feelings as being valid is enough.
Allow them to feel those feelings and then guide them back to their normal state and that will teach them that it is ok to feel negative feelings but that there is always a way back again.
It is also important to teach them control over their feelings too. So as much as it is ok to feel angry, it is not ok to go around smashing things up because of it. Again, acknowledging their feelings will help in the first instance but showing them what to do when they feel that way is invaluable.
Perhaps they are feeling angry. Show them how to take themselves off to a quiet space and cuddle a toy until they feel better. Maybe they are feeling frustrated. Model how to tell someone what the problem is, asking for help to resolve it.
The more you can talk with your toddler, model different emotions (not hiding your own) and show them that it is perfectly ok to share how they feel, the more confident and capable they will be with their own emotional development.
Laying educational foundations
Schools teach our children, but their education starts long before they set foot inside the establishment. The more we can do at home, the better prepared they will be when they start.
At this age, it is all about learning through play and so every opportunity is a learning opportunity.
Learning to count. Opportunities to count are everywhere. From counting the steps to go upstairs, to how many carrots are needed for dinner. From hearing you repeat it over and over, they will slowly start to recognise the pattern.
Numbers of importance are a good place to start when teaching number recognition. If they are 2 years old, they will want to see what that number looks like. You can play ‘spot the number 2′ whenever you are out and about.
Learning the alphabet. Again, repetition is key here. The more they hear you singing the alphabet song the more they will remember it themselves. There a lot of letters so they won’t necessarily get it spot on but being aware that there are different letters is more important at this stage.
The most important letters to them will be the ones in their name, specifically the starting letter. Use this to come up with ideas to get them listening for other words that also have the same letters in.
Perhaps they have a sibling – what does their name begin with? The more you point out sounds, the more they will begin to listen for them by themselves.
Reading stories to them will help with their listening skill, which is key to listening to sounds in words. Reading is the foundation of all learning, so if you do nothing else, just read to them.
I hope that helps you to have an insight into the different areas that you can encourage your child to master.