Encourage your child’s Independence

We all hope that our children will be capable of doing things for themselves. So we strive to help them become independent and confident little people. In a perfect world children would gain skills quickly and smoothly grow into independent people. But in the real world, this growth sometimes moves across a bumpy road!

Often two scenarios play out as children grow.

The first scenario
At times children fight for their independence, even as their parents feel they are not yet ready to handle the situation. Sometimes young children want to “do it myself” even when they are not quite capable. This can be difficult for parents for several reasons:
– the task may not be completed properly because the child lacks the necessary skills
– the child ends up feeling frustrated
– the task takes much, much longer to complete and parents often don’t have the luxury of extra time so they feel frustrated

In this case, it is helpful for parents to “set their child up for success” by adjusting the task to more closely fit their child’s skill level. Getting dressed is a prime example. Find pants with elastic waists, shirts without buttons and shoes that slip on easily. Or, in another instance, allow your child to set the table with plastic plates and bowls. Show him pictures of how the finished product should look (where to place the napkin, fork, spoon, and plate) or demonstrate a skill before encouraging your child to try it so that he has a model to guide him.

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Patience is the key here. Look for opportunities when timing is not important and give your child the chance to complete a challenging task on his own. Children become independent when they have opportunities to practice skills and succeed over time.

If time is an issue, let your child know that he will have the chance to “do it himself” on a day when you are not rushing. Then make that opportunity happen for him soon.

The second scenario
This involves the child who actually enjoys having his parents do everything for him. At times, especially when the clock is ticking, this seems like the best alternative for parents. By doing it themselves, parents can get the job done quickly and to their satisfaction. But in the long run, this can also be difficult for several reasons:
– children can get increasingly demanding as they get older and expect to have their wishes granted – pronto!
– parents these days have a great deal on their plates already, and doing things for a child that he could do for himself is aggravating and exhausting
– the child loses opportunities to gain skills
– the child does not gain confidence in his abilities and may hesitate when presented with new or challenging tasks

Stepping back is the key in this situation. Parents need to sometimes take a deep breath and watch as their child attempts a task. It may not be done well or quickly, but remember that your child is learning to do things for himself and feel satisfied with his efforts. And once again, setting your child up for success will encourage him to attack new things rather than ask a parent or other adult to do it for him. Demonstrations or guidance is critical in situations where children are nervous about failing and prefer to not try at all. When children have a good chance of succeeding, they can relax and work to complete a task. Letting a child know that you believe he can succeed also goes a long way to helping him feel ready to tackle new projects. And praising his efforts will help him feel proud that he tried.

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As children continue to approach new new tasks and have opportunities to succeed, they begin to believe that they are capable. And you are well on your way to helping your child grow into an independent and confident person.

For information on helping your child develop important school-readiness skills, please visit www.schoolsparks.com for a kindergarten readiness test and hundreds of free kindergarten worksheets.

Renee Abramovitz is a a former preschool and kindergarten teacher who retired in 2008 to become a “full-time grandma” to her four beautiful grandsons. She is passionate about the idea that all parents are their child’s first and most important teacher and strives to give parents the tools and confidence they need to successfully work with their children at home. Renee shares tips for working with young children at www.schoolsparks.com where she offers a free kindergarten readiness test parents can take to assess their child’s readiness to start school plus hundreds upon hundreds of free kindergarten worksheets for parents to use at home with their children.

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  • Cascia Talbert , October 21, 2011

    “Stepping back is the key in this situation. Parents need to sometimes take a deep breath and watch as their child attempts a task.” Great advice! Sometimes I find this difficult to do especially if my kid wants to do something that I believe might endanger his/her safety, like using a knife or scissors. But I know eventually I just have to let go.

  • Life With Captain Fussybuckets , October 22, 2011

    This is perfect! My son is about to turn 3 and he's all about the independence!

  • OneMommy , October 22, 2011

    Your 2 examples are my kids. My oldest wants to do everything herself, from the time she was little. I started putting easy to put on clothes in lower drawers so she could pick her own outfits and get dressed long ago.
    My son is the opposite. He finally took off his shoes- at the age of 2. I had to be very firm in not letting anyone help him despite his protests.
    So different.

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