By Amy Steele, LCSW, LAC, RPT, February 12, 2019 –
Independence and self-reliance are valuable skills to equip children with as they grow. We want them to be able to take care of themselves and not have to rely on others meet their needs.
To nurture and develop those skills we have to start early in childhood. Starting as young as age 1 or 2, begin to give children small, simple tasks and encourage them in their efforts. This takes consistency and day-to-day nurturing. It is not always easy and can sometimes be time consuming.
Most parents can recall a time when doing something for their child was easier, quicker, or more peaceful than having the child do it. Yet, each time we choose to do something for our child that they are capable of doing for themselves, we are taking away the chance for them to build confidence in their ability and learn important life skills on their way to independence and self-reliance.
Here are some tips for fostering independence in your child:
- Consider opportunities. Identify tasks that are age-appropriate and safe (be sure to provide proper supervision when needed). Making a list of tasks can be helpful for you and your child.
- Pre-plan to allow for extra time and the probability that there will be mistakes. It’s easier for us to be calm and patient with the effort when we are not pressed for time.
- Prioritize and go slow. Pick one task at a time so your child isn’t overwhelmed.
- Work together. Initially it may be good to share the task, especially if your child is resistant to the idea.
- Give choices. Making choices is part of being independent. Allowing them to pick between two simple choices acceptable to you gives them pride and practice. (i.e. “Do you want to put the spoons or the forks out as we set the table?”)
- Perfection is not the goal. Accept that it won’t be done as well as you could do it. If messes are made use it as another learning experience. Show your child how to clean it up with patience and understanding, assuring them that it happens to everyone.
- Encourage problem solving. When questions come up, encourage them to come up with solutions to minor issues, even if they need to think about it a little, instead of rushing in and taking care of it for them.
Some appropriate tasks for children ages 2-3 include picking up toys and books, putting dirty laundry in the designated spot, throwing away trash, partially (working up to fully) dressing themselves, removing shoes and putting them away, and dusting with a sock on their hand. Kids ages 4-5 can make their bed, clean out things under their bed, feed pets, water plants, clear dishes from the table and wipe up their area.
At age 6-7 kids can sweep the floor, empty the dishwasher, gather trash from different rooms, fold clothes and towels and match socks. By 8-9 years of age kids can walk the dog, bring empty garbage cans up from the curb, sweep the porch, put groceries away, and tackle simple cooking and baking with parental supervision.
Encouraging independence at a young age, not doing for your child what they can do for themselves, will build confidence and self-reliance that they can build on as they grow.