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  • Rosie Alexander

Seven ways to help young children become more independent

If a child exudes a sense of helplessness in the face of, say, taking off their own pyjamas before getting dressed or putting on their own shoes and coat, and refuses to clear up toys or even feed themselves, here are the Secret 7 to set them on the road to self-responsibility.

  1. Step back. You’re frazzled and watching the clock, so it’s easier to crash in and push on a child's wellies (a little abruptly maybe). But hang on. If you continually complete tasks for a child who is capable of learning how to do tasks for themselves, then effectively you are saying that you don’t have confidence in their ability. The result is a child who lacks independence, self-esteem and problem-solving skills and a situation where they “can’t” or “won’t” do age-appropriate tasks.

  2. Allow extra time. Easy said than done when you've barely got time to run a brush through your own hair let alone wipe tiny hands and noses, but the key to child independence is providing a timetable where a child can complete a task, however slowly.

  3. Prepare the ground. Try saying to your child: “I’m sorry, I’ve been treating you like a little girl/boy and you are grown up enough to do jobs big girls and boys do.” Try not to say, “You’re not a baby anymore.” Young children can be over-sensitive to the word “baby”and be discouraged.

  4. Make a list of ten tasks ­— brushing teeth, washing hands, brushing hair, putting on socks and shoes — and ask your child which ones they think they are capable of doing. Most children will rise to a challenge!

  5. But attempt only a couple of tasks at a time. Too many in one go would be overwhelming. And if a child is overwhelmed, break the tasks down: “I’ll do your shirt if you do your trousers.”

  6. Don’t worry about things being perfect. If a child puts on a T-shirt and it’s back to front, leave it be — only you care! If they spill the milk when pouring it into a cup, wipe up the spillage but don’t admonish. When shoes are put on the wrong feet say, “That’s great, you put on your own shoes. I bet you’ll get them on the right feet tomorrow.”

  7. And inject some fun: a foot pushing through a trouser leg can always be a train going through a tunnel; sing songs while clearing up toys together. Doing household tasks with you — polishing furniture, watering plants, making beds — encourages a child to be part of a team and to take responsibility for their own actions.

They'll be choosing their own clothes and hairstyles before you know it!

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