Opportunities to develop independence are immensely important for building a sense of self and self-esteem–not to mention frustration tolerance and perseverance. Sure, letting children carry out tasks often means the task will take twice as long (and be twice as messy), and it can be hard to watch your child try, fail and feel frustrated or disappointed, but it’s a good thing for them! How can you help your child develop independence? Well…
Set predictable routines.
Establishing a consistent routine is important for nurturing independence. Just like us adults, when children can anticipate their day, they are better equipped to take on responsibilities. Now, don’t confuse a routine with a schedule, while they may overlap, a routine is any sequence of events that occurs throughout the day. Such as brushing teeth, because it has multiple steps that always go in the same order.
As children experience these routines over and over they will learn to anticipate what comes next and start to take on more responsibility with less help. If you let your child do some of the prep work (like putting the toothpaste on the toothbrush) they will increasingly take on more of these steps on their own. You are also communicating to them that you have faith in their ability to do these things without you but you are there to help if they need it.
Let your child choose.
Give your child choices. Involve them in deciding what to wear, play, or what to eat. Now this doesn’t mean they have free rein! Provide them will 2 or 3 choices, and then praise their great ability to make a choice! Even if your child is upset and having a tantrum, choices will often help them regain a sense of control. For example, if you’re child is upset because they cannot cross the street by themselves offer them the choice to either hold your hand or be carried. They get to feel in control, while you get to keep them safe.
Let your child help.
Children love to help! Not only does it build independence, but it is also a great way to calm a tantrum or redirector a behavior by giving the child a sense of control. When you allow your child to help, you are fostering their confidence and giving them an opportunity to learn something new. You are communicating to your child that you trust them and these moments provide an opportunity for a back and forth conversation.
Give your child chores.
That’s right. I said it! Even a preschooler can help with chores. Of course chores for your preschooler will look different than your chores for older children, BUT they are important for building up to larger tasks. Research supports chores for children as a way of building their confidence, teaching teamwork, and responsibility.
Let your child solve problems.
Allow your child to try things that are hard and to solve small problems on their own. When children are first learning to crawl or walk, we must let them fall. Well, when children are learning to put on their shoes, we must allow them to put them on the wrong feet first. Wait for your child to ask for help or provide a small hint to get them to the next step. Don’t do it for them!
Nurture free play.
Independent and unstructured play is so important for fostering creativity, problem-solving, and autonomy. However, most preschool children will still need (and want) engagement from parents during unstructured play. Offer your child a variety of things and see what they are drawn to. Use these observations to guide and extend their play. As you watch though, try not to intervene. Comment on what they are doing and praise their efforts, but again don’t do it for them!
What to say.
Children need to know that you see them. You see their efforts, persistence, bravery, and growth. By commenting on these things you are giving positive attention to the qualities you want to foster and making it more likely that these behaviors will continue.