Fostering independence in children is an important task for both parents and teachers.
Here are some ideas and daily activities to encourage independence in young kids.
While it can be a nice feeling when your child needs you and it makes you feel good to take care of them and do things for them, it’s important to find a balance between caring and letting them become independent.
What is our role as a parent? What is the role of any parent in the animal kingdom?
To raise our young so they can cope in the world without us.
We may not be sending our children off to fly and never seeing them again, but we certainly want them to have the skills to live their own lives and be functional, happy adults.
Children have a right to be taught independence skills. It is one of the basic emotional needs that all children have.
The first signs of child independence occur when infants want to do things like hold their own spoon and feed themselves or walk somewhere on their own.
Encouraging independence in toddlers is as simple as letting them do things they are trying to do on their own or asking your toddler for help here and there.
By the time preschool rolls around, however, you should be actively teaching your children this skill. The more independent your children feel at this stage, the more sense of competence they will feel in themselves.
How can we foster independence in early childhood? Here are 10 simple ideas to include in your kids’ daily routine.
1. Give Daily Chores
You don’t need to give your child a long list of back-breaking chores but helping out with certain light tasks every day should be expected.
Things such as taking plates to the table, clearing dishes and helping you hang the washing are all small tasks that will teach responsibility.
You also shouldn’t need to reward everyday tasks as you are giving the message that they don’t need to help unless they receive some kind of compensation.
Rather praise your kids and tell them it’s wonderful how everyone in the family pitches in to help and take care of each other.
2. Make Kids Responsible for Their Bedroom
Your child’s bedroom should be their territory and also their responsibility.
They should be expected to pack away their toys, put dirty clothes into the laundry basket, etc.
Toddlers are notorious for refusing to comply so manage your expectations. Get them to do a little tidying while you sing a clean-up song but don’t expect them to do a great job when they’re exhausted before bedtime.
If siblings share a room, teach them to work together to tidy it, or to make a chart and divvy up the chores.
You will see the difference in how your child keeps their desk at school or packs their bag later on.
Just make sure you don’t “fix” or redo things, such as pulling the bed duvet straighter (at least not in front of them) or you will be sending the message that what they’re doing isn’t good enough.
3. Let Them Pack Their School Bag
Do you pack all your child’s things into their school bag to prepare for school the next day?
Umm…you aren’t the one going to school. Rather help them pack their own bag.
Your child must learn that things don’t magically appear in their bag every day. They need to start practising how to plan for the next day.
Do they need a hat? Change of clothing? An item for Show-And-Tell?
If you are used to doing all these things now, it will not likely change when your child is in the older grades. You will be getting regular tearful phone calls from school asking you to bring a book, sports kit or project that was left at home.
Make it a habit every day to ask your child what they need for tomorrow and either send them to pack it, or pack the bag together. Your child can also help you prepare a healthy snack for school.
4. Don’t Do Things They Can Do For Themselves
When your child is able to do certain things independently, such as dress or brush their teeth, let them do it.
By doing everything for them because it’s easier or quicker, you’re taking away their independence.
The worst that can happen is your child goes to school with a top that’s back-to-front and inside-out, and mismatched shoes. It won’t be the end of the world.
5. Give Choices
Part of learning independence is also learning to make choices for yourself and making wise decisions.
Instead of laying the law for everything, or constantly responding with either yes or no to requests, pre-empt a situation by providing choices.
Ask your child to choose one of 3 winter dresses you’ve taken out of their closet instead of arguing because your child insists on wearing a summer dress.
Give choices about activities.
- Today, after school, would you like to visit granny or go for a swim?
- Would you like soup or curry for dinner?
- Would you like to take out the blocks or paint in the garden?
- Would you like to apologise to your brother for hurting him and come play outside with us or wait inside until you feel ready to say sorry?
It is important that your child is frequently making decisions and weighing up situations, instead of constantly being told what to do and how to do it.
6. Make School Drop-Off Quick and Painless
The daily drop-off should not be a painful and traumatizing experience.
How you approach it will have a big effect on how your child experiences it.
Read all about preschool drop off and how you can make this a positive experience.
7. Let Kids Plan Their Own Playdates
If you are spending tons of energy planning fun and exciting play dates for your children and their friends, you are taking on an unnecessary task and not letting your kids engage in independent play.
Read this article about why it’s actually important to let your children take control and plan their own playdates.
8. Talk to Them and Ask Their Opinions
It’s important to talk to your children frequently and show an interest in their opinions.
You want them to not only act independently but also think independently and form their own ideas and opinions.
Let your children see that you take an interest in their thoughts and opinions and they will surprise you with how insightful they can be.
9. Allow Kids to Resolve Their Conflicts
A huge part of being an independent adult is learning to deal with people and managing interactions and relationships with them.
One of the earliest experiences of dealing with others is through conflict while playing. Let your children sort out most of their conflicts with siblings or friends on their own.
Obviously, there will be times you will need to intervene but for the most part, let them develop the skill to resolve conflict on their own.
When your child complains about someone or something that has happened, ask them how they will sort it out or what they can say to ease the situation.
It is too easy to immediately jump in and reprimand the other child. It will then also become too easy to rely on you to solve every problem going forward.
10. Make Your Children Accountable
One of the best ways to foster independence in preschoolers is to allow them to don’t develop a sense of accountability. This doesn’t happen when children are overly protected from consequences.
Children must learn about cause and effect and how their actions will result in certain consequences, whether positive or negative.
Fixing every problem, not allowing your child to feel disappointment, or not providing appropriate discipline will prevent your child from understanding how life is going to be as an adult.
Adults are held accountable for their actions, and childhood is the time to learn that.
These 10 ideas will help you teach your preschooler to be independent and learn important life skills.
The earlier these habits are in place, the quicker they become the norm. The elementary/primary grades are actually too late to start teaching independence.
Children feel a great sense of competence when they are independent.
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