One of the best gifts you can give your young child is the gift of independence. There are so many things that can contribute to this independence and most of them are from you the parent. A young child’s opinions about his capabilities are mostly based on his parent’s response to him.
Your role in fostering independence in your child is to ensure your child enjoys good self esteem, while you provide love and support, you encourage exploration and curiosity, you teach him skills and you allow your child to make appropriate choices. It is a pretty big responsibility resting on your shoulders but if you are interested enough to be reading this article, then you are already on the right track!
From an early age, your child’s search for independence is fueled by a desire to make things happen. And sometimes this desire might take your child down a path that requires limit setting by you otherwise they might become frustrated while trying to master a certain task. You need to keep an eye so that while a small dose of frustration and even some mistakes along the way can be acceptable for your young child, he should not become overwhelmed with too great a feeling of frustration. Love and encouragement will help him along.
Independence in a baby
If we start right from the very beginning, we know that a young baby is wholly dependent on his parent. However, even at an early age you can allow your child to develop some coping skills and independence. For example:
-Provide lots of tummy time for your baby when he is awake.
-When you are playing together, allow your baby to reach for toys that are just out of reach.
-Put your child in his crib while he is still awake so he learns to fall asleep on his own.
If you are a single parent, you may be even more inclined to feel that you must “do it all” for your child but that just is not always possible. Please do not feel guilty about this but rather focus on the opportunity that exists for your child to develop a healthy sense of independence, as well as the essential skills that he will need to succeed in life.
Independence in a toddler
When your child reaches the toddler stage, you will find that he is really starting to fight for his newly found independence. This is when we hear the word “no” so often! But this is a good sign! A safe environment is paramount once toddlers are mobile. They have little or no judgment concerning their own safety so you have to ensure they can explore and experiment in safe surroundings. To promote your toddler’s growing independence, you can:
-Allow him to choose some meals and snacks whenever possible.
-Give him the choice about which story to read or which song to sing.
-Provide age-appropriate toys so that he can learn to play by himself for short periods of time.
-Allow him to have a say in which clothes he will wearing each day, even if this is limited to basic color selection.
-Provide a step-stool so that your toddler can reach the bathroom sink.
Independence in the pre-schooler
Then when your child gets to the preschool stage, you can really start to make the most of your child’s burgeoning independence. Preschoolers are verbally capable of expressing many thoughts, feelings and needs, and they are ready to take bigger steps towards independence. For example, you can:
-Allow him to pick out his own clothes and to dress himself.
-Be patient when your child keeps trying different outfits. This is a definite expression of independence
-Follow your child’s lead as to when you should begin potty-training. Learning to do it all on his own is a big step.
-Your child will have a set routine at pre-school for different activities such as cleaning up, washing before meals etc. If you use the same routine at home, your child will learn responsibility about caring for and putting away his toys or other belongings.
-Provide lots of learning opportunities throughout the day.
-Establish family chores such as setting the table, folding towels or helping with meal preparation. This builds a sense of competence and teaches young children how to do things for others.
-Teach your child how to introduce himself to new friends.
Along with the whole growing independence of your child comes another ability and that is self-regulation. This is that magic moment when your child actually follows directions and is an important milestone and can occur anywhere between the ages of one and three. However it does not happen overnight but is a skill that grows over time.
Along with encouraging your young child’s growing independence, you can help your child to self regulate by using the following tips:
-Create situations where your child can explore without hearing lots of “donts’
-Praise your child often when he does something right. In other words “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”
-Help your child as he learns to do chores like picking up toys. Make tasks as much fun as possible.
Although as a family you need to establish limits and maintain firm rules about the really important issues especially in matters of safely, try to honor your child’s choices wherever possible. You are helping him to gain control over his world, his future and to prepare him for a healthy, independent life ahead.