5 tips to teach your child independence

  1. Make things accessible

It’s hard for kids to do things for themselves that they can’t get to or reach. Sinks, potties, kitchen counters, tables, etc. are all just out of reach. A little convenience like a step school helps them reach the counter so they can help with dinner, reach the sink so they can wash their own hands, or get to the potty on their own.

I think looking around at their things with the lens of “what can I do to make it easier for my kid to get their own toys, clothes, etc.?” Can pave the way for your kids to take responsibility for themselves and their things.

2. Practice the steps

Some things seem pretty simple from a grown up’s perspective. Tying your shoes. Feeding the dog. Getting ready for bed. Wiping one’s bottom.

But a child usually can’t skip from “I know nothing about this” to “I can accomplish this task independently” in one step.

It can help to break it down. For shoe tying, start with knots. For feeding the dog, maybe you measure the scoop and they put it in the bowl. I know some people use a chart or checklist for bed time. For wiping oneself, helping them measure out how much toilet paper is appropriate (also flushable wipes can be helpful) and practicing wiping other things clean (check out this brilliantly creative idea with a balloon and peanut butter) can help build the skills they need to wipe themselves independently.

3. Let your kids make choices

I don’t believe my kids should be in charge at our house. Three year old are tyrannical. They should not be in charge. BUT, they are little people, and they like to be in control of some things. Kids do need practice making choices in their day, so they’re ready when we need them to make bigger decisions (or want to trust them to make good choices with their friends and independence in the future). I try to give my daughters choices that I’m okay with them making:

“do you like this shirt or this one?”
“would you like to have macaroni and cheese or spaghetti and meatballs for dinner?”
“would you like to watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or My Little Pony?”

I find that when my girls have leeway about these things, they’re a little more   willing to go with the flow when I really do need their cooperation.

4. Narrate what you’re doing

Certain tasks (cleaning a room) can become a battle with a child because they don’t know how to do it. When I ask my child to clean their room, I think my kids should: put away the dirty laundry, make the made, and put all the toys in a bin.

But my daughter just looks at her room and see a big mess and doesn’t know where to start. So, if I join in and narrate the process, I can show her what I mean: “Let’s put the barbies in this bin. Now I’m taking the laundry to the basket. Could you help me straighten the sheets on your bed? Oops here’s a sneaky sock! Let’s put that in the laundry basket, too!”

This demonstrates to a child what you want them to do on their own. I’ll be honest, I didn’t 100% believe that this worked until a week ago when my daughter came home from school and cleaned her room on her own. We have been “narrating our cleaning” for almost two years, and she will still sometimes say, “I don’t know how!!!!” But seeing a room she cleaned by herself was a beautiful sight!

5. Praise your child’s progress and effort

Sometimes, as parents, when our child reaches a milestone, gets it half-way right, or puts effort into something, we automatically move the bar.

“You put your laundry away, BUT look at all the toys still on the floor.”
“Sure you got dressed, but you look like a clown!”

Just as I think we should “Start with Yes!” I think we should start with praise!

“Great Job! I see you picked up your dirty clothes and put them in the basket!” Can you get the toys in the bin, too?”

“What a great outfit! I like how many colors you’re wearing, it shows your colorful personality!”

It’s useful to remember that everyone: kids, ourselves, our spouses, our friends, the irritating person you work with — works better when they feel appreciated for their effort and the progress they’ve made.

When we pause to notice the tiny triumphs or personal victories our kids achieve, it gives them the foundation they need to build healthy confidence and self-esteem. I also think that when you’re in the habit of giving your child concrete praise:”I’m so impressed that you washed your hands all on your own that shows great responsibility!” Alongside general compliments: “You’re awesome!” It helps kids name these skills that we want them to have.

As a final thought, if this sounds like a lot of work (“Do I really have to praise my kid for doing something as menial as cleaning up their room? Isn’t that part of being a person in our family?”) I would like to lovingly invite you to give yourself a little more credit and self-care. I tend to find that when this kind of giving feels totally impossible to me, it’s because I’m operating on an empty tank – I have no energy, I have not given myself the time I need to feel like a person, I haven’t acknowledged my own good works and triumphs. And you deserve to be appreciated by yourself just as much as your kids and the other people in your life do.

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