Helping Children Gain Independence

February 28, 2017

Parent Source March 2017

If you ask most parents what they ultimately want to see when they look at their grown children, the common response is that the children become competent adults who are self sufficient, no longer relying on their parents for physical support. Children’s quest for independence begins in infancy and grows as the years pass into adulthood.

There are things parents can do to encourage independence in children, beginning in infancy when children begin to develop their sense of self as separate from caregivers early on. This leads to building basic self-help skills as toddlers. As they move through the preschool years, children increase cognitive and social skills and begin to make more decisions on their own.

Routines can help children know what comes next, giving them the opportunity to practice skills such as dressing themselves, brushing their teeth and putting toys away. Routines can also give children the opportunity to practice basic decision making skills. For example, they can choose their outfit for the day or the bedtime story at night. Offering choices allows children to develop confidence in their ability to make decisions.

Although showing independence is good, it’s important that limits are put in place to help children learn skills such as delaying gratification, exercising self-control and expressing feelings appropriately. Skills such as these are critical as children mature and move into social and educational settings away from their parents. Young children will rely on the guidance and modeling of parents and other caregivers until they master these skills.

Here are some tips for other ways you can help young children gain independence:

  • Assign chores such as setting the table, putting the trash bag in the trash can, etc. to foster a sense of responsibility.
  • Encourage conversation. Find a time each day to sit down together and discuss what happened that day. Make a point to ask for children’s opinions—and listen to their answers!
  • Resist doing what children are capable of doing – even if you can do it faster.
  • Encourage children to solve simple problems, such as how to get a book from the bookshelf.

This article was written for the March 2017 edition of Parent Source.