Independence is the ability to think and act responsibly with confidence and understanding. It is about making your own choices and being able to depend on yourself. As parents, we strive to raise independent children that are equipped to succeed, but how can we teach this valuable life skill?
The following list is a tool box of specific strategies, attitudes and advice to help you to encourage your child’s independence. You will notice that there are some reoccurring themes throughout – positivity, perseverance, patience, and practice.
• Be a positive role model
Children look directly to us as experienced adults for information about how to act and behave. Mimicking the things that we say and do is a great way for children to learn, even if it can be a little annoying at times. Completing tasks together, especially in the beginning, provides the necessary guidance and support as they learn. Also knowing that there is a friendly, adult-shaped safety net will give your child the confidence to try new things and will help them to approach the next task positively and with confidence.
• Offer encouragement to persevere
Problems take time and energy to resolve, and sometimes a lot of both. When trying something on your own, things can go wrong or may not turn out as planned. Mistakes are a part of life whether we like it or not, so it is crucial that children learn and practice dealing with these issues from a young age. Assure them that mistakes happen to everyone and show them how to deal with the consequences, as it is essential that they develop resilience to challenges.
Children pick up on the smallest cues, both positive and negative. This includes sensing any displeasure we may feel if they take too long or make a mistake, which may cause the child to feel frustrated, disheartened or even give up. Ensure to praise your child’s efforts, as positive words are empowering and will foster continued attempts. It’s important that your child develops a ‘growth mindset’ where they can understand the value in learning and persevering.
Help your child work independently by creating routines that set clear boundaries so that your child knows exactly what is expected. Knowing the schedule for the day in advance provides security by removing some of the trepidation associated with the unknown. Try making a list of things to do that you can tick off together each day, such as brushing their teeth, getting dressed, packing their lunch and clearing the table. Even better, you can include them in their own learning by asking them what daily activities they are willing to try by themselves. This also teaches them to take responsibility for their own learning.
• Be respectful
Every person is worthy of respect, no matter how little or reliant they may seem. Even though a child is small, do not underestimate their abilities. Resist the instinct to jump in and do the task for them, as this robs them of the chance to improve and the proud satisfaction that comes with success. If your child is struggling with a task, instead ask them whether they would like some help and let them give it another try.
Encourage your child’s independence by getting them to practice small, age-appropriate tasks under guidance and work up to the goal of completing that task on their own. Start with setting simple tasks that involve your child looking after themselves. Learning how to get dressed can then develop into choosing appropriate clothes. The best way to do this is to break down each task into small steps and demonstrate. Setting defined chores for everyone in the family, including your child, is also a fantastic opportunity to develop responsibility, demonstrate teamwork and give your child a sense of self-worth and pride when the task is accomplished.
• Allow time for children to do tasks.
Time pressure only adds extra stress to what may be an already daunting situation. Working through a new task can take a long time, even as adults. In addition, rushing can result in making more mistakes and anxiety. It is important that you allow time for your child to work through the task at a comfortable pace, even if it means that you need to get up slightly earlier in the morning to create the time required. This way, your child is able to try on their shirt ten different ways until they succeed in finding the correct way all on their own – great job!