Infants & Toddlers: Helping Babies Become Independent

Guide babies toward new levels of independence by tuning in to their signals and needs

  • Grades: Early Childhood, PreK–K

Babies must learn to trust and depend on their parents and teachers before they can learn true independence. So, during the first year of life, the first step to guiding little ones toward true independence is to address bodily needs promptly. Become a wise interpreter of babies' distress signals. Use your ingenuity to soothe and comfort babies. Trust what you know about each one's special needs for food, cuddling, bodily comfort, your loving company, or stimulation with toys or activities.

Let babies know that they are lovable and that they can trust you to address their individual needs. Hold babies for feeding. Stroke their hair and say soothing, comforting words if babies tumble while trying to learn to walk. Research shows that babies given this cushion of customized caring will, toward the end of the first year, explore and play more independently on their own. Well-nurtured infants will use their growing abilities (rather than cry or wail) to call out vocally, reach out arms, or crawl toward you when they need you.

Babies do try to show early on that they are capable of self-actualization. They will often suck on their thumb or their fist to soothe themselves when they are hungry and waiting for a feeding. Some babies who are able to sit well will hold out an arm for you to put their shirt on. They are already showing that they can take initiatives to cooperate with you. Your loving care has taught them how to "give back" with these accommodating gestures.

Well-nurtured babies show independence toward the end of the first year of life. They investigate the toys you have set out. They explore them on their own for long periods. They bang, poke, push pegs into pegboards, and carry out all kinds of discoveries on their own.

Babies' own maturing central nervous systems also give a big boost to early independence. Growth urges deep within impel them to try new ways of coping with the world on their own. Thus, they may reach to grab the spoon from you to feed themselves even before they have enough wrist control to get enough food into their mouths. 

Click here to view and download A Letter to Families (PDF)

  • Subjects:
    Early Learning, Child and Infant Care, Child Development and Behavior, Life Experiences
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