Simple Ideas with Profound Impact
10 Practical Tips to Foster Independence
In a recent blog post we talked about the importance of letting children learn on their own, make mistakes, and try again in order to grow up to become independent adults who are not afraid of failing. Independence is a wonderful thing in a child but if children are to become capable adults, independence and responsibility must go together. They are two sides of the same coin.
You can begin giving your children opportunities to be independent and develop a sense of responsibility when they are stable walkers and understand enough to follow simple instructions.
Here are 10 simple practical tips to foster independence in young children:
1. On my own! In general, it is a good idea to encourage your children to do things for themselves and for others as soon as they understand. For instance, have your child choose the clothing they are going to wear that day. If you must, you can give options to choose from.
2. Laundry Time: At the end of the day when your child is getting changed have them get into the habit of placing the clothing they wore that day into the laundry basket. My grandchildren have a laundry basket with a goat on it and so they have fun “feeding the the goat” – a fun little trick to get them into the habit of putting their clothes in the laundry basket each night. They also love helping to do the laundry!
3. Clean Up Time: From the time your little one can walk while carrying a toy or object begin encouraging them to put toys away when they’ve finished playing. In the beginning, keep it to just 2 or 3 toys and give one toy at a time asking your child to help you clean up. Let them know how much you appreciate the help and remember to say ‘Thank you for your help’ when they’ve done it! If you search on your favorite music service for “Clean Up Song,” you’ll find many options. Pick a few and make a playlist to make it fun and a cue for your children to start cleaning up.
4. Walk the Dog: Walking the dog is a great responsibility for a little toddler as long as you have a well-disciplined dog. It is a way to begin teaching a child to care for others and it is a fun outdoor activity! OK, maybe not so fun when snowing or raining!
5. Clear the table: After breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner have your child clear their plate, cup, or silverware to the dishwasher or to whatever place you assign that is within their reach. You might begin with just one meal. Choose the meal that you consistently have at the table at home. Eventually, it should be their ‘job’ to clear their place completely.
6. Clothes: When your child starts to develop the ability to use both hands together it is a good time to begin encouraging them to undress on their own. Children first learn to undo things before they learn to put them together. Undressing comes before dressing. Have your little one pull their socks off, or shoes, or pants. At first, you might need to pull the item of clothing off half way and then have them finish. Give the necessary help to encourage them to finish but not so much that your little one doesn’t have to put in an effort to take it off. It is a matter of trial and error for both of you. The important thing is that, as your child learns to undress and dress, it becomes their “job” and you should only do it for them on very few occasions when you absolutely must.
7. Snack time! Whenever possible set up a snack station at a place and height where your child can serve themself when they’re hungry. Containers of dry fruits, nuts, granola bars, or whatever you choose. Keep everything necessary for the child to serve themself (the food, the bowls and whatever they need to serve) on the same shelf or close to each other. Also, have your child serve their own water to drink. Having smaller pitcher is handy for this so that they have a vessel that is manageable for them.
8. Feed the dog: Let your little one be responsible for feeding the dog, cat, or whatever pet you might have. Begin when they are a new walker by just giving a few nuggets of food that they can give to the pet. As they grow and develops better control of their manual ability and better understanding you should increase the degree of independence necessary to feed the pet. Eventually, probably around 2 – 2 ½ years old they should be able to scoop the food from the container, pour it in the bowl and put it down in the appropriate place. Your child should be able to do this independently with just some verbal guidance and reminders until it becomes their own responsibility.
9. Around the house: There are many activities a child can do at home that teach independence and the importance of helping each other. They also help develop tactile ability, manual ability, help teach them colors, counting, and much more. In addition, as your child is learning they are helping you get some household tasks done. Yes, it will slow you down but it will be more fun for both of you! Examples of such tasks are – dusting, wiping a small table, sorting laundry, helping to set or clear the table (teaches quantity by counting), making a sandwich, folding kitchen towels, etc. Keep the duration of the task short in accordance with your child’s attention span. For example, if you are folding kitchen towels with a very young child, 3 towels is a good start.
10. Encourage your little one! Last, but not least, encourage and expect your child to be helpful around the house. The more opportunities you give them to be independent and helpful to others and the more you praise them for the help and effort they are putting in the more aware of their ability your child will become and the more willing to help others they will be. When children are given these opportunities they learn to be less self-absorbed and more aware of the needs of everyone around the house and in society.
To summarize, be aware of all the things you are doing for your child that they could be doing for themself. Stop and encourage them to do those things on their own! All children want to be independent. They want to be allowed to do things for themselves. We grown-ups are often the ones who stop or discourage them when they are very young. Later, when we want them to begin helping they have lost their young child’s desire. They have developed an attitude of entitlement. It becomes a struggle to get them to help. They still want to be independent but without any responsibility. Unless it is unsafe, let your child try and learn by doing things independently right from the young toddler stage! Remember, once you have given your child a responsibility you must not do it for them or you are giving the message that it is not important or necessary for them to do it!
Finally, ALWAYS be thankful for their independence and their help and make sure you let them know how happy you are and how proud you are of all the effort they are making.