Watching babies learn new skills and develop into toddlers is an amazing thing, but there are even bigger changes ahead! Encouraging self-help skills in toddlers is a thoroughly rewarding task, but one that you might need a bit of help with.

Trained educators and similar-aged peers are a great help, and their assistance in developing your child’s skills is another of the many benefits of childcare. Read on to find out more about how to develop self-help skills, the key areas to focus on and how childcare centres can help with encouraging children to develop.

What are self-help skills?

Self-help skills sometimes referred to as self-care skills, are the building blocks of life that make young children more independent.

There is a wide range of self-care skills that toddlers learn. Some they get quickly and others need to be practised time and time again. Eventually, they’ll get a hang of them all but, despite a parent’s best efforts, it can take a bit of extra help to get them happening repeatedly.

toddler developing self-help skills


The definition of self-help skills is fairly straightforward — they’re the skills that babies, toddlers and young children learn as they make sense of the world around them.

There’s no set list of these skills, but it’s widely agreed that everything from learning to move by themselves to eating their meals, getting themselves ready and helping out with small chores around the home are all included in the set.

Main self-help skills

Although there are lots of skills that will help toddlers to become more independent, there are three main areas that parents and daycare educators will focus on in the early years. These can be broken down to:

  • Self-feeding
  • Dressing and grooming

Each of these sets of skills can be broken down into smaller areas, with different skills to be learned at different times. Being able to take finger food from a plate to their mouth will be learned a lot earlier than being able to tie their shoes, for example.

Implementing a reward chart as your child learns to do their school-related tasks and daily chores (like table setting or putting clothes into the laundry basket) can instil pride and create a visual schedule.


Independent feeding skills are something that makes a huge difference to a child’s (and a parent’s) life. As you begin to move a child onto solid foods, they can start with the basics. From picking finger foods to using child-sized utensils and their own plate, having a child feed themselves gives the parents a bit of breathing space.

Self-feeding also includes drinks. Using bottles and sippy cups independently before moving onto open-top tumblers and pouring themselves drinks are all important tasks.

As children grow, you can begin adding minor cooking skills that will make them more sufficient and encourage children to develop small motor skills.

Dressing and grooming

Getting dressed can be a constant battle for parents, but giving your child some autonomy in these situations can help a lot.

There are a few factors in the learning process. Learning to pull socks off is a natural first step, but putting them back on is a momentous occasion. From there, you pit your child against sleeves, fasteners and zips.

As older infants gain the confidence to dress themselves with minimal assistance, the same routine in the morning often goes a lot more smoothly.

Hygiene and toileting

There’s no denying that toddlers can be messy! It’ll be a while before they stop investigating and playing in messes, but now’s the time they can learn everyday hygiene routines. Washing hands independently and helping clean themselves in the bath are two good places to start.

This is also around the time that most people begin toilet training. To begin with, parents normally take the lead in wiping afterwards, cleaning the toilet seat and helping to wash hands, but these are skills children will need to develop before starting primary school.

Hygiene as a self-help skill for toddlers

The importance of self-help skills for toddlers

Aside from the natural benefit of toddlers growing up and becoming more independent, there are noticeable benefits when we encourage self-help skills, including:

  • Boosts confidence
  • Helps build self-identity
  • Independence
  • Self-esteem

Boosts confidence

Learning new life skills or how to complete a new task is a great feeling. The sense of achievement grows and grows, whether it’s putting shoes on for the first time or picking their outfit for the day.

As children learn new skills, their confidence grows too. They see that they’re capable and it gives them the confidence to try other new things. They might not always succeed, but this willingness to try will drive them onwards and upwards.

Helps build self-identity

Identity is something that many people struggle with in life, but the creation of a positive self-identity starts very early.

Toddlers form an opinion of who they are by what they do and what they’re told. If they’re encouraged to try new things and they can see themselves learning and succeeding, it will shape them into having a positive self-identity.

This can have strong impacts on their lives, including emotional, social and even physical development.


Independence is a huge part of growing up. While babies are completely dependent on their parents for most aspects of life, as they get older they start to do more and more for themselves.

Put simply, a parent’s role is to prepare their child for life. These self-care skills are the first steps involved to create an independent life — after all, parents can’t go to school with their children, so they’ll need them sooner or later.


All humans compare themselves to others, even young children. When you’re small, you have a unique view of the world and you may not be able to fully understand the differences in people. Seeing that other children develop quickly in areas they haven’t can have a demoralising effect on them. But keeping up with other/older infants and toddlers means your child will be happier and more fulfilled.

Ways childcare can help self-care skills

Parents are the most important role models and teachers in a child’s life, but everything shouldn’t be left up to just two people.

Appropriate supports are available from many other places. Grandparents and older family members are good sources of help, as are childcare centres.

Whether it’s the guidance of an educator or the inspiration of seeing older (or similarly aged) children performing certain self-care tasks, daycare can be a huge help as you encourage self-help skills.


Although morning and bedtime routines naturally have a change of clothes involved in them, these are often emotionally charged times, which create challenging steps to create a learning environment.

Most childcare centres will have a wardrobe of dress-up costumes. From princess dresses and fairy wings to workplace uniforms and mythical creatures, dress-up makes changing clothes a fun thing. It’s a sneaky way of learning and, for many children, they’ll change costumes multiple times in a day, honing those self-care skills without realising.

Using utensils and eating independently

One of the biggest factors stopping children from learning to do things themselves is that they rely on their parents and know that they can get help if they demand it enough.

When you’re not around, it’s amazing what they’ll try and what they’ll do — especially when they’re surrounded by other children doing the same thing.

Lunchtime and snack breaks at daycare offer children the chance to experiment with eating finger foods, using utensils, peeling fruit and eating independently.

Eating independently - self-help skills for toddlers

Visual schedules and routines

Love them or loathe them, schedules and routines are a big part of our lives. Unfortunately, they’re something children can struggle with.

A morning routine of eating breakfast, getting dressed and brushing teeth looks easy on paper, but it’s amazing how long these daily chores can end up taking. But why brush teeth when there are toys to play with?

Although children still get their freedoms, they’ll find themselves following a few schedules at daycare. Simple things from the times of provided snacks to the process of sitting down quietly to listen to a story all add up to understanding the procession of tasks.

Learning through play

The attention span of a toddler is a curious thing. There are times when it seems like they can’t focus for more than a minute, but give them a toy or game they enjoy and they can stay engrossed for an hour or more.

This can create challenging steps to teach them some new self-care skills, but childcare centres and their trained educators have mastered the art of teaching skills through play. Whether it’s working on counting, fine motor skills or something else, there are plenty of sneaky ways to make these tasks and practises fun.

One of the best ways of teaching through independent play is by using arts and crafts — just one more reason why creativity is so important for children.

Finding the right childcare to encourage self-help skills

Knowing how to choose a childcare centre is a tricky task. Sign up with Space (for free) to browse and compare the different options near you.

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