We all want to raise independent children. But how do we do that, concretely? Here are ten tips to help your child on their way to becoming more independent and to enjoy all that it entails.
1. Organize your home
You want to make your home accessible to your child so it encourages him to participate.
One of the best ways to do this is to look at your child’s day and think to yourself “what changes can I make to help him complete this task without my help?”
For example, if your child is telling you several time a day that he is thirsty or hungry, then maybe it is good to organize a little water station so he can help himself or even put snacks that are appropriate for your child at his level in the kitchen.
Or you might keep the dishes that you reserve for your children at a lower level such as in a low drawer or cupboard or keep their clothes and coat racks at eye level can help their clothing to be more accessible to them.
If you can offer your child only three components, you will ensure maximum independence and autonomy from your child. They are not very difficult to put in place, and again, it does not require a complete change of the existing set up, just slight adjustments.
- Order. A place for everything and everything at its place, so it is clear to the child where he can find what he needs and where to put things away.
- Child-sized furniture. We want to avoid our children living in a world of giants. Furniture and utensils should be child-sized to nurture independence and self-esteem. From the coat hangers, the tables, and chairs, to the jugs, the cutlery or the pitcher, everything needs to be child-sized to support his growing autonomy in taking care of his needs.
- Real / functional material. Again, what the child manipulates needs to reflect the real world. If a vase made of glass is thrown down, it will break. There is direct feedback the child can interpret to learn how to handle things carefully to avoid damage.
2. Allow for time
Sometimes, all we need to do is be more aware of the moment and allow our child to have time to practice skills. So, when you’re planning your activities for the day, allow for more time to accomplish some tasks such as putting on shoes, prepping meals and cleaning up. And building more time into your schedule will relieve stress for both of you. When you simply plan for more time in your schedule, you suddenly are not this frantic parent trying to race against the clock. And then you, yourself can be a calmer influence on your child, and then be there to help your child develop these skills in a stress-free environment.
I am not saying that it is always possible to allow for time. Sometimes, we are in the rush, especially during the week. But if at least, we can try to allow for time during the weekend, this is already amazing. We tend to plan a lot, and sometimes way too much.
The children end up going from a piano lesson to the judo class and then visiting a friend before going to the museum and the grocery stores.
But wouldn’t it be more comfortable for everyone to not plan anything?
Your child wants to stay home playing with his activities. Awesome! Your child wants to go to the park for a short walk, what a great idea. And then, if nothing is planned, he/she will have plenty of time to try to tie his/her shoes, without anyone pointing out that we are already late.
3. Observe and support
As adults, we have the tendency to jump right in and squashing our child’s opportunity to learn and discover for themselves. So, I encourage you to step back and observe your child in the activities he is trying to do independently, only offering support when he requests it from us. As you watch, try not to intervene. When you intervene, and even give them little hints here and there, you are doing the work for them.
Stepping in as little as possible supports their growth.
By doing so, you are demonstrating that you have faith in their capabilities to be able to accomplish the tasks, but by staying close you are also showing them that you support them, and you are there if they need help. Especially in a new developing skill, it is important that you remain close and attentive to their needs.
Stepping back and doing less, can do more than you think.
4. Value their efforts
While yes, it is important that we step back and let them try things on their own, it is also equally important to let them know that we see them, we see their effort, we see their perseverance, we see their bravery, we see their struggle and, in the end, we see their growth. By offering your child verbal feedback, you are coding them with positive attention which children at any age crave. And that further encourages them to continue that behaviour in the future.
Now, when we are acknowledging their effort, you may remember to do just that. It is about acknowledging the effort that they are putting into the task, not necessarily accomplishing the task itself. You might do that by describing what they are doing:
- “I see you lined up all the trains”,
- “I see you are working hard to get your shoes on”,
You can specifically praise the effort:
- “You can do it”,
- “You did it”,
- “I love the way you did the beginning all by yourself”.
And then of course, sharing enthusiasm with them:
- “There we go!”
- “Look at you, you did it all by yourself. Yay!”
All this positive verbal feedback further encourages your child’s growth and independence.
5. Value their efforts
Because yes, water will sometimes spill, dishes won’t be placed in exactly the right places, it might take a lot of practice before they get their pair of trousers all the way up, but you don’t want your child to be afraid of making mistakes but rather you want them to realize that it’s a part of life and that’s okay. So right now, accept that your child is not going to do the task as well as you would, that’s OK. You can go back and fix it later. But in the moment, focus on developing a self-confident and capable child.
If the cup spills, that’s okay. Show your child how to clean it up without criticism. It hurts our children more than it helps them to shame them for making these simple mistakes that we honestly make as well. When your child puts their shoes on the wrong feet, rather than immediately correcting them and saying, “oh you put your shoes on the wrong feet”, you just might say something like “you put your shoes on all by yourself, yay!”
In time, s/he will put his/her shoe on the right feet as s/he learns to navigate that discomfort. But today, rejoice that s/he put them on his own.
6. Encourage problem-solving
When your child encounters a problem, don’t rush in to solve it for him. This takes away the moment for them to be able to learn for themselves. Encourage your child’s problem-solving skills by asking a simple question: “how can we solve this problem?”
If your child is facing a problem, that’s okay. Give him a little bit of time to think about it before you rush in. Help them to deal with that frustration of encountering a problem is important. When your child doesn’t succeed at something, make sure to talk in problem-solving ways.
When you’re offering support, you might say something like: “let’s try to do that part again and see if we can make it work”. And sometimes, problems just can’t be fixed in the moment. That’s when you might say: “that’s okay, we tried really hard, let’s put it aside and come back to it later and see if we can come up with any more ways to solve this problem”. When our children solve problems on their own, we can say something like: “that’s what I call to be a problem solver”.
This helps them realize they can solve problems on their own which of course helps to build independent and confident children.
7. Offer choices
Rather than coming into conflict with your child, you can still empower them to make their own choices by offering your child choices that you are completely OK with and allowing them to choose. You are communicating to them that their feelings matter, and their voice is heard. And also, part of being independent is being able to make decisions for yourself. So let your child make those decisions by providing choice within limits.
8. Create a routine
Just like adults, when children can anticipate their day, they will be better equipped to be able to take on some of the responsibilities that come with their day. So for example, when your child wants to go outside:
- “You want to go outside?
- “Yeah? if you want to go outside, what do you need on your feet?”
- “Boots? Yeah, let’s go find them”!
When children experience the same routine over and over again, they learn to anticipate what comes next and naturally begin to take on more of that responsibility themselves.
So, including your child in the day-to-day things that you do with your family not only will help him build their confidence and independence but also strengthen your connection.
9. Choose words wisely
When you want to give your child a choice, pose it as a question.
- “Do you want to wear your woollen jumper or your blue sweater?”
If it’s not meant to be a choice, make sure you say it as a statement:
- “If you want to go outside, you need to put your shoes on”.
And whenever possible, start with yes:
- “yes, we can go on a bike ride as soon as you’re wearing your helmet”.
- “Yes, you can watch a show, – tomorrow during our screen time”.
Starting with yes helps your child to feel that the choice that they wanted was acknowledged. It’s important to be as clear as possible with your child on whether s/he can choose for her/himself or not, because sometimes, having a choice really isn’t an option, it is just the way it is. So be as clear as you can about communicating that to your child.
10. Engage with your child
Invite your child to spend time with you doing certain tasks together. This could be preparing meals together, washing dishes together, doing simple tasks around the house, or even collecting the mail, sing in the car together, read books together, share experiences, and laugh together. All these things show your child that you love and care for them. They can observe you doing tasks that likely soon they will start to do on their own and in the meantime have their love buckets not only be filled but overflowing.
A child who feels loved can also feel safe to be independent and confident on their own.