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Examples of Autonomy in Toddlers

By Kathryn Hatter ; Updated April 18, 2017
A toddler often has a strong urge for autonomy.

As an infant, your child was dependent on you for every need and desire. With a little physical growth and cognitive development, though, your toddler gains the maturity necessary for autonomy. With these expansive abilities, your child may show you a variety of examples of her impressive autonomy as she goes through her days.

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It’s common for parents of toddlers to hear “No!” in response to a variety of situations and questions, according to a 2009 "Texas Child Care Quarterly" article. Although hearing “no” and witnessing willful defiance in your child might be disconcerting and frustrating at times, this insolence is a necessary step in a toddler’s quest for autonomy. Children feel a strong need to exert a separate and noticeable identity during toddlerhood as they strive for greater independence.

Practicing Skills

Toddlers are usually busy learning and acquiring new skills. As soon as a child realizes that she can put her own shoes on and take them off, you may begin hearing “I do it!” or “Me do it!” whenever it’s time to complete these tasks, according to an early childhood curriculum developed by HighReach Learning. As time-consuming and frustrating as this may be, your patient support for your child will help her gain mastery of these skills and become more independent.


Providing choices for a toddler can be an effective way to foster autonomy and encourage some pint-sized independence, offers Sue Grossman, Ph.D., with the Early Childhood News website. When you offer choices, you give your toddler a little control over various situations, which can build self-esteem and even teach responsibility. For example, give your youngster a choice between the green shirt and the blue shirt in the morning or let him decide whether he wants to have peas or corn for dinner. Offering choices can also be a winning way to avoid conflicts with a testy toddler.

What to Avoid

In your desire to help your toddler gain independence and autonomy, remain mindful of common pitfalls that could have detrimental effects. Your child needs plenty of activity and chances to practice skills – don’t expect her to just watch without trying. Keep routines predictable and stable to instill security. Don’t expect your child to master skills that are beyond her abilities – she may become too frustrated to try. It’s also important not to expect too much from your child regarding self-control and self-discipline. A toddler still needs plenty of parental supervision and encouragement, especially when she’s working on new skills.

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About the Author

Kathryn Hatter is a veteran home-school educator, as well as an accomplished gardener, quilter, crocheter, cook, decorator and digital graphics creator. As a regular contributor to Natural News, many of Hatter's Internet publications focus on natural health and parenting. Hatter has also had publication on home improvement websites such as Redbeacon.

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