10 Ways to Promote Independence in Your Child
Tips to encourage your little learner.
26 August 2015
Granting independence is hard, and evaluating when the best time to start letting go is even more difficult. Inevitably, the level of independence of your child will be wholly dependent on their age; a 12 year old will have different levels of independence compared to a 7 year old, or a younger toddler. Yes, they still require care, attention and love from us as parents, but the level of care is different.
So the question is, at what age do you start promoting and encouraging independence. Of course - every child is different. And so is every parent. Few parents wish to raise a teenager or adult who continues to bring their washing home at the age of 40 years old and is unable to cook a basic meal. On the flip side, most do not want to raise an adult who remains emotionally dependent on you.
Gradually begin to let go
Let's start from the beginning, then. Sooner or later all parents have to "let go", but this of course needs to be a gradual transition. If it happens too soon or too quickly, any child may find that independence is a little scary, and thus are likely to become withdrawn or cling on in desperation to their parents.
You can start this transition from as early as two or three years old, introducing different methods and levels of independence as they gradually grow older.
Ways in which you can promote independence
1. Let them voice their opinions: allocate time as a family or the two of you to discuss your day, opinions and leave room for questions from them. Answer them in a way they understand, and even let them listen to adult conversation so they understand it's okay to have an opinion.
2. Help your child to make decisions by offering a small choice of which story to read or what outfit they want to wear for the day! By letting them choose what they wear, you're inadvertantly promoting their personality choices, too.
3. Encourage discipline in a helpful manner by asking them to put away their toys - even make a game out of it! - or ask for their help when sorting the washing. A three year old toddler for a chance will be able to assist you with small housework tasks like dusting or mopping, or even set the table (but will still require help with cutlery).
4. Involve your child in the weekly shop by following simple instructions, for example "we need three red apples", or "get the bread on the bottom shelf please".
5. As soon as they can pick up objects with their finger and thumbs, promote feeding themselves with tiny sandwiches, bits of fruit, cooked carrot or grated apple etc. Offer assistance when using cutlery, gradually letting them hold it themselves independently. This includes a cup or bottle.
6. Show enthusiasm when your child tries to help, even if it'll take longer and recognise any tasks that they accomplish, of course.
7. Praise their ability... A necessary thing from a parent if you wish your child to believe they're capable of doing different things.
8. Don't say "I'll do it" when performing small tasks, instead say "let me show you", instead. That way your child is learning new skills and not just relying on you to do everything for them.
9. Point out why things are dangerous or unacceptable without belittling the motivation to do things on their own.
10. Respect your child's feelings and fears. As silly as it may seem to you, by asking them why they're afraid it gives room for them to talk to you about it.
Teach them that it's okay to be separate
Help your child to see that it's okay, acceptable and sometimes a desirable thing to let someone have some alone time, or personal time. From the age of one, in a safe and danger-free room, it will be okay to leave them for a few minutes alone to get used to the feeling. From two/three years old and onwards, you'll be able to confidently perform household tasks around them while they keep themselves busy with their favourite toy or colouring book.
To help in this department, you could implement structured and unstructured alone time. Let them pick where they want to be within the already set boundaries and what they would like to do. It's a time that they will be able to independently entertain themselves. For example, you could say "it's me-time, and you can sit on the couch or at the table and read a book, draw or play with your puzzles." It gives them options within the safe boundaries set by you as a parent, but promotes their independent choice when they choose.