One of our goals at MCP is to foster independence in each of the children. This is probably one of the most important things we teach to preschoolers. In Kindergarten they will be expected to complete tasks on their own, to be able to dress, take care of their personal needs and to work independently. Independence starts at a young age, even a baby can learn this. “I’ll be there in a minute” helps a baby understand that they are ok, that their caregiver is coming to take care of their needs. Starting this young teaches resiliency, problem solving, confidence and self –esteem, which are important to a successful, happy life.
Where to begin? Here are some ideas to help you get started.
1. Don’t do for your child what he or she can do for him/herself. This seems easy, until you realize ALL that you do for your child. Spend some time observing your child and yourself. What so you automatically do? Let them get dressed, toilet, eat, play on their own. Beginning at age 3, children want to do for themselves. It will take extra time, your patience will be challenged (at first), but the rewards will be well worth it.
2. Give choices, one of the attributes of independence to the ability to make decisions and to handle the consequences of them. Offering too much choice can be very overwhelming, but giving an either/or option can be very effective. “Do you want to wear pants or a dress today? Do you want strawberries or a banana for dessert?” A small caveat, once a decision is made, try not to waffle and let them change their mind. Remember they need to live with the consequences of their choices.
3. Set the stage, in order for a child to be able to be independent the environment needs to make that easier for them. Stepstools for the sink and toilet, have easy access storage for clothes and toys. Routine is important, children feel safe when they know what is coming next and it helps them prepare for it. Give them adequate time to get ready to leave the house. It is also good to allow plenty of time for the bedtime routine. Be positive, praise effort and be kind when mistakes are made, because there will be mistakes! That is OK! We all make them and as soon as children realize a mistake is not the end of the world, the better off they will be. We can ask, “What can we try next time? That was tough and you tried so hard.”
4. Don’t try to solve every little problem. This is tough, we can easily see what the child needs to do, but we also need to give them time to come to a solution on their own. We can ask,” What do you think we can do?” support their answers and let them try. Parents may have to relax a bit; it might take the child a moment to realize he needs a paper towel or cloth when he spills his cereal bowl. We are so programmed to react and act, so we need practice to relax and let the child work through it. Problem solving is an important skill, one they need for school and life.
5. Finally, be a good listener. Talk to your child; ask about their day, what they did and how they are feeling about things. To truly independent, children must feel they are valued and what they have to say matters. This is built by being available and truly listening to them.