We start off doing everything for our kids. We put food in their mouths, wipe their bottoms and brush their teeth. Our children come to us in a cute little body that is incapable of doing anything for itself.
As our children develop they are constantly improving their skills to be more self-sufficient. Often – we as parents (myself included) forget that our children have progressed. I am guilty of wiping my kids bottoms – waaaay too long!
Raising independent kids is not just about mommy convenience.
When we encourage our children to do things for themselves – their self-confidence improves.
When we show that we believe in them – they start to believe in themselves.
There are lots of reasons why we don’t encourage independence in our children-
-They will make a mess (guilty as charged)
–They are not fast enough (is this list about me?)
-They will fail and get upset (and who has time for that!?)
-They will feel unloved if we don’t do it (sad little pouts tug at the heart)
But – there comes a time when we must push our neurotic, controlling, rushed, well-intentioned selves to let go a little and let our needy little people blossom.
Alright you think. I am in. But, where to start?
–Your child follows you around all day exclaiming, “I am bored! There is nothing to do!”
-When it is time to get dressed your kids lose all sense of muscle control, as you direct each limb into its designated holes.
-You sometimes feel you should be wearing an apron and collecting tips.
Independence doesn’t happen over night, but with patience you can start to plant the seeds to a more independent child.
1. Create an organized environment that makes independence easy
Your children can’t be independent if everything is out of reach and unorganized. Revamp your home to make kid-friendly things accessible. Start with plenty of stools! Also there are light switch extenders that can help your child turn on their own lights. There are also faucet extenders for those hard to reach faucets. Small table and chairs can make it easy for your child to work, do arts and crafts and prepare their own snack.
Have activities within reach and ready to go!
Create cabinets and drawers that have arts & crafts and fun activities ready for little hands to grab. Every nook and cranny in my house has some sort of hidden activity. My coffee table has crayons and coloring books tucked away in the drawer. My food pantry sports an arts and crafts organizer with pull out drawers that are easy for little hands to grab. Each drawer has an activity ready to go such as play dough & tools, kinetic sand & molds (if you are feeling daring!), stickers & paper etc.
Have toys organized for easy clean up.
I have noticed that kids play longer and clean up better when their toys are organized. I am a simple dump and run kind of mom – so I like toy bins with themes. You can have a Lego bin, a car bin, a dress up bin, a baby doll bin – whatever works in your house. Kids will clean up quicker and with slightly less drama when they know where things go.
Have snacks, dishes and tissues within your child’s reach.
Having plastic cups, dishes, snacks and tissues within your child’s reach can facilitate Independence. You can prompt them to get their own water, their own tissue and their own snacks.
Depending on your parenting style and your child – you may not feel comfortable having snacks readily available for little hands to grab – everyone’s style is different and that is okay.
I have healthy snacks on low shelves in my pantry and fruits in the lowest drawer of my refrigerator. My kids still ask if they can have a snack – but they are able to make their own healthy choice and feel some pride in their ability to choose and prepare their own food.
2. Don’t underestimate your children
I have been guilty of underestimating my children’s abilities from time to time. I remember having an epiphany that my eleven year old should be cutting her own food. I have a lot of epiphanies like that.
With my second child – I am more on the ball and have trusted him at six to start using a butter knife to cut up strawberries. I was blown away by how proud he felt when I gave him the task of cutting up our vegetables for our dinner salad. He beamed as he told the table, “Yeah, I made the salad you guys are eating.”
Don’t underestimate your child’s abilities. Give your child tasks and sit with them initially as they do it. Give them pointers without taking the reins. Let them make mistakes and highlight their efforts.
3. Give yourself extra time (and patience) for independent tasks
If you are going to insist that your children clean up, dress themselves or do any task that they are going to drag out – carve out some extra time. There is nothing worse than insisting your child do something for themselves, only for you to get frustrated and do it for them. When you are in a hurry – avoid asking your kids to do something they will do at a snail’s pace.
4. Make cleanup easy by having kid-friendly cleaning supplies available
You can teach responsibility by having your children clean up after themselves. I created two little cleaning sets for my youngest children. Inside there is a small duster, dustbin, rags, wipes, sponge and water spray bottle. I also bought a small broom for them to share.
When they spill or have a messy art activity – I prompt them to clean up their mess using their clean up bins. I have been surprised to see them independently going into the closet to get their bins. This doesn’t happen often – but when it does I want to do somersaults.
5. Use toys and apps for children to grow their life skills
Some life skills aren’t going to naturally develop. Tying shoes, learning about money, riding a bike are just a few life skills that have to be taught. There are plenty of toys that can help our children develop these skills at a faster pace.
I am a big fan of the no-pedal balance bike – as it taught my son to ride a bike with no effort. He transitioned smoothly from the balance bike to a bike without training wheels. I almost wanted to write a thank you letter to the toy maker for the hassle-free bike training!
Do you have some ideas on how to encourage independence? I was slow on the go when it came to my kid’s self-wiping and I’ll admit – my twelve-year-old just learned to cut her own food last year! What things slipped under your radar? Leave a comment and share your wisdom!