Patience and Compassion Produce Independence

Patience and Compassion Produce Independence

One of the most important psychological tasks of toddlerhood is achieving autonomy, that is, a sense of independence. An infant obviously is dependent on others for virtually everything. But a toddler is learning that he can do things for himself.

Unfortunately, some mothers and fathers forget that this is not an easy task. Figuring out how to dress oneself, feed oneself, etc. typically involves a fair amount of struggle over a significant period of time. And if his parents are quick to be frustrated and upset, the toddler’s progress will be severely impaired or even stopped.

Think about it. At the breakfast table, the toddler decides he is going to pour his own milk. He knocks the carton over and spills milk all over the table. What do the parents do? They scream, “What are you doing! Look at the mess you made!”

Later that evening, a guest a dinner goes to refill his wine glass. He knocks the bottle over and spills wine all over the table. What do the parents do? They gently intone, “That’s okay. Accidents happen. Let’s try again.”

So it is a good idea to strive to be as patient and compassionate with your toddler as you are with your guests. Achieving autonomy cannot be accomplished without many mistakes and an occasional mess being made. But as long as parents serve as understanding guides rather than harsh critics, they will eventually reap the reward of having a competently independent and psychologically healthy child.

Dr. Mike

Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project. He may be contacted via e-mail at