How We Teach Independence
As a kindergarten teacher, I watched as parents marched into my classroom, time and time again, and assisted their child with the standard tasks at the start of the school day. They would bark commands - take off your shoes, put your agenda where it belongs, unzip your coat - and, often, their child would fool around or struggle with the onslaught of directions before the parent would inevitably get frustrated and complete the task themselves. Of course, I quickly put an end to this and silently vowed to myself that when I had children of my own I would ensure that they were independent where they could be.
How very laughable of me! I made a vow about how I was going to act with my kids before I actually had kids. But, as I forged ahead on my motherhood journey I quickly realized that I needed to see this vow through, no matter how difficult. I want my kids to progress and that means allowing them the space to try. Luckily for me, my experience as a teacher taught me a lot about what a child is capable of. I learned quickly that kids will take from you whatever you willingly hand out. They know your boundaries and will push those limits to the very edge of reason until one of you bends. Children know what they are able to get away with and those smart little humans know they are capable of using and abusing your patience, wearing you to the very core until you just can’t take it anymore.
So, through my own trial and error, I have learned a few tricks when it comes to teaching independence and thought it would be beneficial to share them. Like anything when it comes to parenting, not everything I do will work with your child. Give them a try; modify what doesn’t work, use what does, and toss aside what definitely won’t work. Hopefully, you will be on your way to teaching your children to be a little less dependent and a little more self-sufficient.
Prepare Your Child
When it comes to your child’s daily routine, any bigger changes you plan to make should be discussed weeks in advance. Talking about upcoming change will allow your child the time to process what they are going to face instead of throwing them into the deep end and hoping they can swim. Whether they are starting school or potty training, giving them a heads up puts them at ease when the time does come. Talking through your expectations and what the process will look like can calm their nerves and will give them time to ask questions, raise their own concerns, and ultimately become comfortable with the change.
Never Do For Your Child What They Can Do For Themselves
Listen. It is so much easier to just do it for your child - I get it. Unfortunately, this drives two distinct problems. First, it squanders their opportunity to learn it for themselves. Let me tell you how painful it is to watch a child struggle to take off a coat for minutes at a time but, if you don’t allow the process to play out, the child will never learn how to become proficient at the task. Second, it teaches them that they don’t need to learn because eventually, you will do it for them. They learn helplessness instead of learning to work towards building their skill set.
Break Down The Task
Start small. There is no need to expect a complete turn around instantly. You can’t teach whole skills in a moment. Instead, break down tasks into smaller more feasible parts and work at them individually, building towards complete independence. For example, make them pull down their own pants when potty training. (typically, children ready to potty train are capable of this). You may need to work on the getting on the toilet, flushing, wiping, washing, drying hands, and pulling up their pants later, but starting somewhere is better than not starting at all.
It is so easy to stand over your child as they work independently. We like to interject and give commands, thinking that this is somehow benefiting the child. Often, we speak up too soon or step in prematurely because we believe our kids aren’t “getting it”. Instead, we need to step away; give your child the space to do it themselves. You don’t need to watch them at all times and if they are struggling they will ask you for help. I don’t go into Maelle’s class’ boot room anymore. She doesn’t need me there watching her every move and, next year, when she is in Kindergarten her teacher definitely will appreciate it as well. Setting the expectation this year means that next year she will already understand that this normal. She’s ready for this step now so there is no point prolonging the transition.
Make It Possible
Creating an environment that is kid-friendly is half the battle towards independence. Place their coat hooks at a level they can reach. Put the child dinnerware and cutlery where they can quickly grab it. Buy a step stool so your kid(s) can put their dishes into the sink or reach the bathroom faucet on their own. Install a child toilet seat while potty training. Plan ahead and make the changes necessary to make independence a reality.
Make A Visual List
I got sick of hearing my own voice repeat the tasks that Maelle needed to complete before she left her bedroom in the morning or before she left the house for school. Instead, I created a visual checklist that she can follow to make sure that everything gets done. Using visual cues is a great way to break down bigger tasks, keeps your child on track, and assists them in following a step-by-step process without your direct support. For example, Maelle’s school checklist consists of: pack your snack and water, go to the bathroom, put on your shoes and coat, and take your backpack with you. Each of these directions is accompanied by a picture - simple and clear instructions that guide her towards success.
Praise Even The Small Victories
You’re not going to win every battle so it’s critical to celebrate the little victories. Tell them how proud you are of how hard they are working or how you like that they tried to do something before asking for help. Leave the unrealistic expectations at the door and keep negative comments to yourself. Children thrive off of positive reinforcement, so praise them, clap for them, and do a happy dance to encourage more growth.