The best ROI I've found to "earn some time back" with young kids is through teaching them to be independent in as many ways as possible. Sounds obvious, but you may be surprised at how many missed opportunities exist in your daily life with your own children. I know it's sometimes easier to just do things for them to get them done quickly and correctly the first time, but it's a losing proposition in the longterm. Plus, it actually creates more work for you as the parent, and simultaneously deprives your child of the important "little accomplishments" they need to build valuable self-confidence during these early years.
Taking the time to learn how to set our kids up for independent success is always worth it a thousand times over. Here are 9 ways I let my toddler help herself (and me!) every day:
#1 - Access to Easy and Safe Food & Drinks
If I had a nickel for every time I had to stop what I was doing to get my child a snack or a drink, I would most certainly be relaxing on an island somewhere right now instead of writing this article. (Ha! But maybe...?) This is my #1 tip for a reason, because it's easy to do and creates a lifetime of independence in a very important way! I cleared out the bottom drawer of our refrigerator and stocked it with easy and safe food and drinks that my daughter knows she can have any time. Some of the usual suspects here are water, milk, juice, pureed fruit & veggie pouches, and squeezable yogurts. She was so excited to learn this was "her shelf" and that she was allowed to go in and out of the fridge to get things from there whenever she wanted. She even helps grab things we need for her baby sister now, too! I also keep the lowest drawers in the kitchen reserved for her cups, bowls, forks and spoons so she can help us with meal prep as well. Little kids really like being involved in the "every day stuff," and take a lot of pride in helping mom and dad, so put them to work!
#2 - Self-Serve Toy & Book Storage
We made sure to make all toy and book storage in our house purposeful, safe, and easily accessible. I'm a bit of a neat-freak, so we have concentrated and organized areas in a few places around the home where the kids know they can keep their things. Their bedroom has a short and sturdy bookshelf and one small basket for some stuffed animals, the living room has a set of matching bins sorted by "toy type" to keep their interest, and the family room has a small shelved unit with some standalone, bigger items beside it. Most of the toys we keep in the house are simple and not overstimulating, and encourage open-ended play, learning, and use of the imagination.
"Over the past 50 to 70 years, there has been a continuous decline in children's opportunities to play freely, away from adult intervention and control." – Peter Gray, Journal of Pediatrics
This is just another reason that this type of setup is useful and productive for children. I also like to rotate toys periodically and try to keep an eye on the things that are "most-loved," and put away the items that are cast aside most often to keep things engaging and interesting for both my 2 and 1-year-old.
#3 - Kitchen Helper Stool
One of the best investments I've ever made in the kid department is our kitchen helper stool. Gone are the days of backaches, pulling at my pant legs begging to be picked up, and dangerous climbing attempts to see what's going on above. We keep this chic, foldable stool next to our kitchen island, and my toddler uses it all day long. She can get in and out easily and safely on her own, giving her access to everything at my eye level, food and drink, help with meal prep, playing, and more.
#4 - Tooth Brushing Station Setup
I am still shocked at how self-sufficient my daughter has become with her nighttime routine. After showing her only once where things were, what they did, and how to put them back, she literally does all of it herself every night. (And actually gets upset with me and my husband if we intervene!) Not only does this help move along bedtime, but it frees me up to hold and care for our younger baby too. We have a small stepstool she uses to get up to make the sink accessible, a countertop organizer where she keeps her toothbrush and toothpaste, and a faucet extender (that works on all of our varying faucet types btw!) so she can reach the water.
#5 - Low Shoe & Clothing Storage/Hamper
We've got a strict "no shoe policy" in our house, and after watching my husband and I remove our shoes upon entry day after day, my toddler started following suit. She loves that she has her own shelf at the bottom of our entryway vertical shoe rack, and it's encouraged her to learn how to take them on and off independently. Similarly, we like to give her "mini missions" to help with daily tasks, which also include laundry. We got a soft hamper that stays in her closet, and she is able to open it up and put her dirty clothes away by herself at the end of every day. We also made sure the bottom drawers of her bedroom chest were "reserved" for the things she could most easily help retrieve and put on. She knows were her clothes, socks, and hair accessories are all located and helps get herself ready every day too!
#6 - Toddler-Safe Food Prep Kit
If you have a toddler, you know they want to do everything by themselves as soon as possible. (And if you don't yet, get ready!) I love this toddler-safe food prep kit! I'm able to teach her how to use important kitchen tools, and can allow her to help cut things by herself without fearing she'll lose a finger! Plus the smaller cutting boards, peelers, and cookie/sandwich cutters make mealtimes a blast for her, and help get her excited about what she's going to eat too.
#7 - Easy-Entry Stroller Wagon
After my toddler began showing serious resistance (see also: FREAKING OUT) every time we tried to put her in a stroller, the Wonderfold Wagon came to our rescue! I had been eyeballing these bad boys for a while and finally pulled the trigger last spring, and I'm so glad a did! As a pretty frugal person, the pricetag scared me off a bit initially, but I am happy to report it was worth every penny. It is easy to use, such a smooth ride for the kids, comes with 5-point safety harnesses on the seats, an adjustable canopy overhead for sunny days, lots of fun accessories, so much thoughtful storage, and is collapsible so it fits in back of our SUV. But the best part now is that my toddler can get in and out on her own! It has a cute little zipper entry so she can hop right in after we leave the playground and then relax while enjoying some snacks on a walk. She gives us no fuss with this thing whatsoever (why would she?! I wish they made one for adults!) and it is by far my most asked about baby product. I love it so much that I contacted the company about becoming a brand affiliate, and you can now use code XtineElise for 10% off at checkout on their official website here!
#8 - Mess-Proof Containers
Whoever came up with these snack catcher cups deserves all the love and praise of parents everywhere! I fill them with different (mostly dry) snacks daily, and my toddler loves that she can grab and go anywhere with them whenever she's hungry. Whether around the house, in the car, or playing outside, this is the cleanest way I've found to allow her to eat independently, without having to follow her like a cleanup crew or feel the need to insert myself in the feeding process in order to not find a mess after. It's a total win-win!
#9 - Involvement in Daily Chores
I used to find myself cramming all of the household responsibilities into nap and sleep times so I could have uninterrupted windows to get things done. But once I had two under two, I had to figure out ways to check off my to-do list while the kids were up, too. Besides, cutting into your valuable quiet time is not a great way to live and thrive as a parent! I cherish my opportunities to do focused work, exercise, take a bath, or binge watch Real Housewives at night... that is NOT the time to do chores! This change was such an important part in finding the life balance I have now. Figure out what part of your tasks can be handled by a toddler and delegate! Whether it's putting all the socks into a pile while I'm folding the laundry or helping put away the clean dishes, my toddler has FUN being a part of the process. She helps vaccum the floor, bring small garbage bags to the door, wipe down surfaces, restocks diapers, helps pack to-go bags, and so much more. Not only do I get a ton more done now, but she takes so much pride in helping me do it all! Plus she is developing lifelong skills, learning about teamwork, and is getting great at taking direction and using problem-solving strategies to get things done. A perfect recipe for proud parents and happy munchkins!
I'd love to hear about the ways you help your little ones learn to be independent in the home and out in the world, too! Feel free to share your tips with me here or on IG (@XtineElise), and check out more fun and informative content on the parenting section of the blog!
Just a reminder that I utilize affiliate links, which means I make a small commission from your purchase (which doesn't affect how much you pay).
This helps this mama keep doing what she loves! TYSM in advance for your support! :-)