My three year old is fiercly independent. And when I say fiercly, I mean she just may take you out at the knees should you try to help her in any way, shape or form. In some ways, this is awesome. I lay her clothes out and she puts them on (I have not even allowed her to think that she will ever have a chance to pick out her own clothes. Once she decides that she wants that freedom, the battlefield will become much more delicate.)
In general, she does not want you to do anything for her. If you try to carry something, she snatches it. If you try to pick her up, she turns into gumby and slides out of your arms into a puddle on the floor. If you help her without her asking you, well - all I can say is look out.
But being that she's three, there are times when it's clear she needs help. This is where things get touchy. Take this morning, for example. I gave her a shirt with a rather tight collar and she was struggling to get it on. I could hear her screeching in frustration but she absolutely refused help. At times like this, I treat the moment like a hostage situation. Here's how it works:
First, I stand several feet away, speaking in a soothing voice and telling her I'm more than willing to help if she needs it. I'm usually met with a resounding "NO!"
Second, I slowly inch toward her, still speaking softly. Sometimes this works out well and I'm able to help her out before she even knows what's happened. But, other times - like today - this only escalates her frustration and she moves to the hopping and crying phase (I do it myhels! she cries)
Step three is to reach my hands out and, while keeping my voice soft, use firmer words. "Tia, let me help you. It's going to be okay. We'll get this done a lot faster if you just let me help." I have to act fast when it gets to this point otherwise she spooks and runs. I grab her hands and finish the action quickly and smoothly. She usually cries, sometimes screams, which then requires some jail time (i.e. time out in her room).
When she's finally allowed to return to the company of others, she's as pleasant as can be and back to her bouncy self. Until, of course, the next time that help is required, at which point I jump back into the negotiations. I should be getting paid for this.