Today we welcome, Nicole Avery, the super-organised Mum behind the popular parenting blog, Planning with Kids to talk about a subject close to my heart – encouraging children to develop age appropriate levels of independence.
In families with young children it can seem like there is always so much for mum and dad to do: washing, cooking, cleaning, bathing, and the list goes on. But is this work that mum and dad really need to be doing? Not always! I have found the best way to encourage independence in children and simplify my work load, is to teach children to be able to look after themselves and their belongings. Now this doesn’t mean that I expect our four year old to cook the evening’s meal, but he is more than capable of getting himself a glass of water if he is thirsty. As parents we can encourage and help increase our children’s independence by having the infrastructure around the home set up so that they can do things for themselves. Here are four areas and some tips for each to help you get started;
1. Getting Dressed
Experts suggest that from the age of 2.5 to 3 children are capable of dressing themselves. To make this task achievable, children need to be able to easily access their clothes. Having lower rungs in wardrobes or closets and organising drawers into clear compartments means that they can find the items of clothes that they are after. Experience has taught me that having a modest amount of clothes available for choice is critical for young children. Too much choice and they can be standing there all day deciding what to wear.
Young children make mess! They spill things, bring dirt through the house, smudge windows and so on. None of these things are a major drama in themselves, but if mum or dad are constantly the ones cleaning up the mess, it can become a point of conflict. To avoid this, have the right tools available so you can simply direct the child to clean up their own mess. We have a dustpan and brush stored in an area that the children can access easily. We have a drawer which contains a pile of small cloths in the kitchen (they have been made from cutting up old towels into small squares). The children can use these to wipe up spills at the table or on the floors and then put them straight into the laundry basket.
Preschool aged children and up are completely capable of making themselves simple snacks like toast or a sandwich. Again it is about having the right equipment available and accessible for them to use. Smaller sized knives make the task of spreading butter much easier for little hands and having plates at a level they can reach for themselves, means that can make themselves a snack without needing an adult’s help. Taking the time to teach a child how to make a sandwich is worth the time investment for parents. It may take a number of times for children to do it with adult help at first but once they have the hang of it, they can do it by (and f0r) themselves, and for younger siblings many, many times over.
4. Self Care
With a number of young children in the house, I could spend significant chunks of my time tying shoelaces, doing up buttons, washing hands, etc. As children begin to have the fine motor capability to complete these areas of self care, I will take the time with each child to show them how to do it. It really is just like the old adage, “If you teach a man to fish!”
Although teaching children to do these basic tasks, helps simplify the workload of the parents in the house, the real benefit is really for the child. The self confidence boost that children receive from being able and allowed to do things for themselves is remarkable. Children feel a great sense of pride when they master a new skill or gain competency in a new area. By encouraging children to do for themselves what they are capable of, you are placing them firmly on the path to confident independence.
Nicole Avery is a mother of five gorgeous kids. On her blog Planning With Kids she shares tricks, processes and plans that have helped make family daily life easier for her and her brood.