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From Baby to Big Kid

An e-newsletter that showcases how children learn and grow each month from birth to 3 years. From Baby to Big Kid translates the science of early childhood and offers strategies parents can tailor to their unique family situation and to the needs of their child.
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School Readiness

O-12 Months##


Self-Confidence: 12 to 24 Months

Most toddlers want to do things “All by myself!”  They are eager explorers and have many skills--walking, talking, figuring out how things work--that allow them to venture out and make lots of new discoveries. But they still need to know that their loved ones are always there for them as a “safe base.” This sense of security allows them to explore and learn. 

Click on the following links to learn more about the many ways you can help your toddler learn to feel good about who she is, and to believe in herself and her abilities. 

Build your toddler’s self-awareness—the understanding that she is separate from you and that she is her own person.

Self-awareness is when a child realizes that he is a “distinct individual whose body, mind, and actions are separate from those of other people” (Berger, 191).  This is a huge milestone for toddlers, especially for developing self-confidence.  They can now think about themselves, their actions, and their impact on the people and world around them.  (“Am I a good, likable, capable person?”)

You can tune in to your own child’s sense of self-awareness by using a technique from a classic experiment (Lewis & Brooks, 1978).  In this study, a dot of red makeup was applied to babies’ noses without their knowing it.  They were then shown a mirror to look at themselves.  If the babies reacted to their mirror image by touching their own noses, they knew they were seeing their own faces.  What researchers found was striking:  None of the babies under 12 months reacted to the red dot as if it were on their own faces (though some smiled at the silly baby in the mirror).  But most of the babies between 15 and 24 months did show some self-awareness of the red dot—by touching their own faces or gazing at their mirror image with a puzzled or curious look.  This shows that the children recognized themselves. It also shows that they had a picture in their minds of their own faces—so the red dot was a strange surprise! 

What you can do:

  • Help your child develop self-awareness.  Point out the result of her actions. You put the toys away. That makes mommy happy.  Now we have time to read another book before bed.
  • Help your child understand who she is as she grows. Trying new things can feel scary to you.  You need time to feel comfortable. Or, You have such strong feelings!  Sometimes it’s hard to keep them in control.  This kind of self-awareness helps children use what they know about themselves to manage successfully in the world.

Help your toddler become a good problem-solver.
Children learn by solving problems—everything from how to get the triangle block in the right opening to how to get their own clothes on.  Children benefit from activities that are challenging enough that they require careful thought, attention and effort, but not so tough that they are impossible to master. Parents can help children tackle new challenges by seeing what skills their children currently have and then helping them take the next step. For example if your child can build a tower 5 blocks high, show her how she can make a wider base so that she can make a taller tower.  

No matter a child’s age, there are always tasks that she can complete with assistance, but cannot yet do totally on her own.  (For example, a toddler may be able to lift the milk carton and pour but not get the milk directly into the cup.)   When parents provide support to help children master new skills, they learn to feel proud of their own abilities and see themselves as capable and able to accomplish their goals.  Through repeated experiences like these, children develop a sense of self-confidence and self-esteem.

Parents play a very important role in helping their children become good problem-solvers by scaffolding—or giving children the help they need to learn a new skill or accomplish a goal, without doing it for them..  Just like the scaffolding that supports a building until it can stand on its own, the scaffolding you provide gives your child the support she needs as she works to complete the job she is working on.

What You Can Do to help your child become a good problem-solver:

  • Support your child by using languageAre you looking for a big puzzle piece or a little piece? What about trying another space?
  • Offer direction—such as taking a puzzle piece and turning it so that it is easier to see where it might fit.
  • Point out positive steps taken—such as noticing when your child tries a piece in a different space (even if it doesn’t fit).
  • Recognize progress—by helping your toddler see how she has gotten closer to finishing the puzzle: Look, you just got one more piece in.  Now you only have two more pieces to fit in their spaces and the puzzle will be done!

Make playtime a chance to build self-confidence
Through play, children are faced with new challenges and master new skills - finding the ball behind the couch, getting the blocks stacked up, getting the jack-in-the-box to pop up.  These play experiences and others like them help children develop confidence that they can solve problems. 

What you can do:

  • Follow your child’s lead during play and let him be the “director”.  If he takes out the blocks, ask what he wants to build and help him carry out his ideas.  This will build greater confidence, assertiveness, and leadership in your child.  And children learn best through their natural interests and by doing what is most meaningful to them.
  • Offer new and challenging activities (but not so hard that he does not have the ability to figure it out.) This will help expand your child’s skills and build confidence.

Recognize your child’s progress and accomplishments. 
Focus on the steps your child has taken to reach a goal. You helped put your shirt on by reaching your arms up high!  That was a big help.  Focusing just on the outcome can make children feel as if they are only valued when they are successful.  Providing encouragement along the way gives children the confidence to persist with challenging tasks—making it more likely that they will succeed in the end. 

What you can do:

  • Focus on the process more than the outcome. For example, point out how hard he worked to get his block tower taller. 
  • Make a photo album that shows your child’s progress.  For example, take photos of a small block tower he has made and then another photo of the skyscraper he eventually created. 

Break down difficult tasks into manageable steps.
Some tasks can seem very overwhelming to young children.  They often cope with these situations by avoiding them—such as by refusing to step into the wading pool or stopping halfway up the ladder to the “big slide.”  When you help your child break down these challenging tasks into smaller steps, he is much more likely to feel confident that he can tackle them. You are also teaching your child how to use this strategy to accomplish the many big tasks he will face as he grows.
What you can do:

  • Devise steps based on your understanding of what is challenging for your child. For example, if your child is afraid to go down the slide, you could slide down yourself to show him it’s safe, or have him slide a favorite stuffed animal or doll down first.  Then offer to stand behind him as he practices climbing the slide’s steps. Then see if he’ll go down on your lap, and then perhaps alone while holding your hand. Throughout, let him know you believe in him.  Also, make it clear that it is okay if he’s not ready to go down on his own yet. You are there to support him whenever he wants to try again.
  • Show understanding and empathy when your child is struggling with a challenge.  You tried to pour your own juice. Good for you. Some juice is in the cup. Some spilled. That happens when you’re learning to pour by yourself. Let’s wipe it up with this sponge.  This lets children know it’s okay not to be perfect and helps them develop important coping strategies when things don’t go as planned.

Model self-confidence.
You are a role model for responding to challenges.  Children are always watching their parents for clues about what to do or how to feel about the different situations they encounter.  When you talk yourself through a difficult moment, maintain your self-control when stressed, or persist at a difficult task, you are teaching your child important strategies for being successful and confident.

What you can do:

  • Model persistence. When you model persistence and confidence in yourself, your child will learn this too. This jar just won’t open!  It is sooo frustrating!  What else can mommy try?  I know, how about I run it under some hot water?  I heard that can help.   Then, when you are successful: Yea for mommy!  I didn’t give up. I did it! This shows your child how to persist and cope with challenging situations.
  • Model confidence in new situations.  When you go with your child into a new situation or to meet a new person, if you look calm, confident and happy, it lets him know this is safe, good place or person and he is more likely to feel safe and confident as well.


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Share Your Activities With Us

The most important thing about the activities you do with your baby is that they’re fun for both of you.  But sometimes these activities can also help babies learn new things. Are there any games or songs that your baby loves, and that also help nurture his growing self-confidence?  Please share them with us!  We’d love to post a few of our visitors’ ideas on this site.


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