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10 Daily Activities to Encourage Independence in Preschoolers

As a parent, you know it is important to teach your preschooler to be independent and to stand on their own two feet. These are 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.

Independence is a skill children have a right to be taught. 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.

Baby feeding himself

Encouraging independence in toddlers is as simple as letting them do things they like doing 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 encourage independence in the early years? 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.

2. Make Kids Responsible for Their Bedroom

Child at school

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.

If your child shares a room with a sibling, 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

Walking into school

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 early on 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.

Child tying shoelace

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

Playdate

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 and 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 comes to complain of 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 fostering 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.

Your child will feel a great sense of competence when they are independent and you can then rest assured that you have raised a happy, capable person.


Would you like a year of done-for-you, ten-minute activities to teach your 3-5-year-old through play? Get your copy of the Learning Through Play Activity Pack for only $27.

Activity Pack for preschoolers

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Kathie Rath

Sunday 30th of August 2020

Very informative and excellent guide.

Tanja Mcilroy

Monday 31st of August 2020

I'm glad you enjoyed this Kathie!

Jumana

Tuesday 30th of June 2020

Your article was very informative and educational. I will share it with my chiidren

LB

Thursday 14th of May 2020

Hi I love this article and the 10 steps to building independence in our preschoolers!!! thank you! My concern is that we dont “make” children do anything but rather as parents we see ourselves as teachers and role models providing lots of daily opportunities for our preschoolers to build skills for life. “Making” a child do anything may put them at risk of engaging in power struggles with adults and other children....Choices and understanding of the correlated consequences can help children make good choices so that no adults or peers will need to “make” them do anything:). Thank you again!!

Tanja Mcilroy

Monday 18th of May 2020

Thank you! Agree wholeheartedly.

Mina

Thursday 5th of March 2020

Hello dear Tanja Thank you very much for your help and your attention. I would like to know more about gross motor skills and fine motor skills . Im a teacher in. a preschool centre . And I want to to learn different kinds of play I can do with my kids in my class . Thank you Regards Mina

Tanja Mcilroy

Thursday 19th of March 2020

Hi Mina, Thank you for your message. You can find more info on fine and gross motor skills in these articles: https://empoweredparents.co/fine-motor-skills-for-preschoolers/ https://empoweredparents.co/gross-motor-skills-for-preschoolers/ For info on types of play, click on my menu and scroll through the articles on "Learning Through Play". I hope that helps! Tanja

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