The school bus will arrive any minute now, yet your children are back to their morning-shenanigans. They drag their feet to morning chores unwillingly, and everything is taking extra-long. As you look at the time, your hopes of your child catching the bus quickly fade away. Your child is not quite yet the independent child you hoped, but your already running late, today is not the day.
What do you do? You end up doing half your kid’s chores for them. Knowing full well that they are capable of doing it on their own. This goes on and on and before you know it, everyone’s developed a habit out of it.
This is known as the “Get-through-the-day” parenting as per an Edmonton psychologist, Jeanne Williams. Parents are often so caught up in the immediate-parenting before their eyes that they forget the long term effects this has on their children.
By habitually doing things for your kids, you send the subliminal message that you lack confidence in your child’s abilities. Give it a few years, you may find your child lacking in areas of independence, confidence and problem-solving. Your child is now addicted to a ‘learned-helplessness’, and learned from whom? Yup, you guessed it.
Why Is Independence Important for A Child?
Encouraging independent behavior in your children imparts life-long survival lessons in them, right from their early years.
It creates a sense of self-respect
Children gain confidence & self-worth when they complete tasks by themselves. It prepares them for real-life challenges in the future and also helps them socialize better.
It helps them learn from their mistakes
By letting your child solve their problems on their own, you help them learn things more proficiently. By learning through trial and error, kids tend to become more analytical & disciplined, as they learn and predict the consequences of their actions without your intervention.
It helps them manage their stress and failures.
No matter how much you guide & support your kid, they are going to fail countless times, from answering a question wrong to falling off the jungle gym. Naturally, they will feel stressed out from those failures. But giving them freedom and allowing them to do things by themselves in their early ages, will help them overcome those temporary disappointments.
So, How to Promote Independence in Your Children?
There is something called ‘Independent Learning for Kids’, which means that kids, when given freedom take the opportunity to explore their interests naturally. Promoting independence in children through independent learning helps broaden their learning into several domains. This results in an all-round personality development.
Oftentimes parents cater to each & every whim of their children, and later it becomes an obstacle in their independent learning. The key is here allow yourself and your child enough time and
‘Don’t do for your children what they can do themselves’
Promote independent play in your kids
Independent learning for kids starts with independent play. This involves allowing your child to play independently without any assistance.
Kids in the age group from as early as 6 months to 5 years can be introduced independent play within their wake time. The older a child is, the longer he'll be able to enjoy solo play. As a general rule, with parental supervision, babies below the age of one year can play independently for 5-10 minutes at a time. For toddlers in the 1-3 year old range, you can be on the other side of the room and let your kid be play independently for somewhere between 10 minutes to half an hour.
There may be times when your child wants to cling to you while playing. In this case, play with them for a few seconds, and then walk away for a few. Repeat this pattern similar to sleep training to let your child know you are there but that they need play themselves.
NOTE: A child engaging in screen time such as TV and cell phone does not constitute as independent play!
'Encouragement' is the Key Here
Autonomy, meaning personal-independence, is a tendency children are born with. Most toddlers naturally try to get more freedom and control. Remember the ‘infamous-cry’ in toddlers, and ‘tantrum-throwing’ in young children when they don't get what they want? That’s just their fight for independence, dear parents.
With the right kind of encouragement, temper tantrums can be directed to develop healthy responsible-autonomy.
Once you are a bit confident that your child can play independently, encourage your child to perform bigger tasks (like small household chores) while interacting with them.
Empower them – Express your wonder about how much they have grown. Say things like “You’re ready to do big-kid things now.”
Praise and Encourage – Whenever your kid achieves something for the first time, don’t forget to compliment them. Say, “Wow, did you really put on your own shirt? Good job.” Encourage them even when correcting them. Like “Let me show you a different way, is that better? You can try doing it this way next time.”
Make it fun – Incorporating play and imagination is a great way to make activities fun and memorable. Create make-believe characters that can help your kids complete their tasks.
Reward the efforts – Sometimes you can assign a prize if they accomplish something. Remember to reward the efforts put, not just the accomplishments and do so sparingly.
List the activities – Make a list of activities that you think your child can take on. Below given is an age-appropriate list of some independent activities for children.
List of Self-help Skills for Children
A child of 2-3 years of age should be able to…
- Help in organizing their toys
- Put their plate into the sink
- Brush teeth with a bit of your help.
- Put their clothes in the laundry hamper.
A child of 4-5 years of age should be able to…
- Recall their full name, address and phone number
- Make an emergency call
- Dress without your help.
- Perform basic cleaning like dusting or wiping the table.
- Brush teeth without your help
A child of 6-7 years of age should be able to…
- Blend, mix and cut with a dull knife
- Make a sandwich
- Make their bed without assistance
- Bath without your assistance
Independent thinking should be encouraged right from childhood. Developing independent learning in the early years are the building blocks of a confident, analytical and healthy young adult in their later years. You’ll pat yourself on the back as well when you are able to take a few more coffee breaks during the additional free time you have created for yourself!