Imagine your child had hidden superpowers you’d somehow missed. Like, say, the ability to make your morning coffee and clean up afterward. That’s what this little boy is about to do. Oh, one more thing: He’s 2 years old.
We’re guessing you had one of two reactions while watching it (maybe both):
“Awww! That’s so cute!”
“No way my kid could do that!”
Oh, but you might be surprised by what your child is capable of, says Jesse McCarthy, an expert in child development (and a former Montessori school teacher and principal).
Carter—the 2-year-old in this video—is clearly a bright and likable toddler, but he’s no more exceptional than most kids, McCarthy told me. (The boy’s father, who made the video, is a friend of his.)
Kids can do plenty of things that we mistakenly believe are beyond their age, he says, whether it’s a 5-year-old doing laundry (a mom can dream!), a third-grader peeling potatoes, a tween painting her own room—or a toddler making coffee. And when we give them the right kind of simple boosts toward independence, it’s a win-win for everybody.
What Carter has going for him, McCarthy says, are a few key things that any parent can provide a child of any age.
Let’s take a closer look:
Carter’s dad picked up on his interests.
Not every perfectly capable 2-year-old will want to make coffee. Yours might be fascinated by gardening. Or enthralled by feeding the dog.
Carter’s dad never coaxed or pushed him into making coffee. He simply noticed that his son liked watching him do it as part of his morning routine—and encouraged that interest by modeling it for him (“This is how Dad does it”) and letting him try.
Key insight: Involve your child in the things you do and pay attention to what captures his or her fancy. “If they see you, they often want to do it,” McCarthy told me. “Build on what your child shows interest in.”
Carter’s home environment says, “You’re capable.”
You probably noticed Carter’s step-stool/ladder, which allows him to reach the counter and refrigerator confidently and easily. A pedal on the trashcan enables him to open it and use it on his own. Notice, too, that everything he needs to make the coffee (the Keurig machine and pods, the cup, the sugar) is positioned so he can reach them.
“Here’s where everybody asks, ‘Is that a glass pitcher? What if it breaks?’” McCarthy says. “No problem! Then Carter and his dad, who’s always nearby, can clean it up together.” (Or you could just use a plastic pitcher, of course.)
Key insight: Kids feel more capable when their environment is set up so they can achieve things on their own, without having to ask for help.
Carter lives in a language-rich home.
Carter talks a lot about what he’s doing as he makes the coffee (almost as if he’s reminding himself of all the steps involved): “Turn on, turn on, Daddy.” “Warming up, Daddy.” “Push that, push that.” “Oh, need to turn it off.” “Need some sugar, Daddy.” “Hot, hot hot,” he says, as he remembers to take out the used Keurig pod safely by holding its top.
He absorbed all that from his dad’s prior modeling, McCarthy reminded me.
Key insight: Kids are always listening—and learning. Narrating what you’re doing helps them learn how to do things on their own.
Carter’s dad treats him respectfully with no unnecessary help or praise.
Equally important is what Carter’s dad, off camera, doesn’t say.
He doesn’t order him, direct him, correct him, or say, “Be careful! Be careful!” (We all know that one’s a really hard reflex to break.)
Nor does he use a lot of lavish praise for what, let’s face it, are basic, everyday skills. He simply shows him a lot of quiet respect: “Wow, thank you.” “Okay, thank you, Carter.” “Thank you very much.”
Key insight: Respectful confidence is inspiring! “Kids who are independent know when to ask for help,” McCarthy told me. “They, in turn, respect their parents because they think, my mom or dad understands.”
Carter’s dad keeps it about the moment.
Sure, at the end of the video, Carter’s dad has a fresh, hot cup of joe to start his day. But that’s not what motivated Carter.
“There’s no practical reason for a 2-year-old to make coffee,” McCarthy told me. “Kids don’t do things for practical, adult reasons or the end-game. They do it for the process.” They like the feeling of soap bubbles when doing dishes more than they’re thinking about having clean plates for next time. They like being like mom or dad.
Key insight: The motivation, the satisfying sense of achievement, and the plain fun are all in the doing—not necessarily the results.
Something else: Notice that Carter’s dad is really the one doing something superhuman here. He never crows about his son’s unusual feat.
That’s because a 2-year-old making coffee may be rare, but it isn’t all that exceptional, once you see what went into it. When kids show us what they’re truly capable of, we shouldn’t consider it a party trick or evidence of genius, McCarthy told me. It’s just growing up in action! Given the encouragement and opportunity, every kid is capable of amazing things—which is the true marvel here.