Your child’s ultimate goal and purpose in life is to become independent. From their first wobbly steps, babies slowly move towards greater and greater independence.
For parents, a child’s journey to independence may be a bit bittersweet. While parents take pride in their child’s progress and new abilities, every step is also means their child is growing up.
Ultimately, parents know that helping their child achieve independence is important. An independent child grows in their skills and abilities. This makes your life easier since you can rely on your child to do more on their own.
1. Change Expectations
Before assuming a task is beyond your child’s abilities, think it through. As parents and caregivers, out of love, we often baby our children more than necessary. For example, you might always serve your preschooler rather than letting them scoop out their own applesauce. Or, you might hover a bit much over your 4th grader at homework time. By expecting independence, we can change our approach to allow our kids to flourish on their own more often.
2. Watch First
Do you find yourself swooping in to help your child at the first sign of distress? Rather than interfering when you see your child struggling to complete a task, watch. Take some time to notice if your child really seems upset, or if you’re just feeling impatient. Adults often interfere much before a child actually feels too frustrated to continue. This robs children of the chance to develop perseverance and other skills they’re working on. For example, intervening when your child is attempting to undo a button takes away their chance to improve their dressing skills. So, wait and watch more and only help when your child requests help.
3. Teach Skills
Intentionally teach skills that your child needs to learn. For example, teach your child how to hold a fork and knife to cut their food. Or, teach your older child how to make and follow a schedule rather than enforcing one you make. By passing over age-appropriate responsibilities to your child, you encourage their independence.
4. Provide Appropriate Tools
In addition to your guidance and teaching, your child may need actual tools to achieve their highest level of independence. Young children require stools to access the sink. You may also consider placing cloths, rags and dishes in areas where they can be easily reached by your child to use. Older children may require other tools such as a wall calendar to keep track of their homework. But mostly, older children can use household items and tools. They may simply require instructions and encouragement.
5. Encouraging Words
Notice your child’s efforts at independence and encourage them. In addition to the enthusiastic, “You did it!” and “Look how hard you worked on that!”, you might also point out the benefits of their efforts. For example, you might say “You did your own laundry! Now your clothes are clean and I’ll have more time to spend with you doing something else.”