Your tot pours water in a glass, and he spills a few drops (okay, he almost emptied the water pitcher) on the table. Your first instinct is to wipe the table dry. Resist the urge to do so even when you see him accomplish the task clumsily, and one that would take mere seconds with your help. But letting him do it means valuable benefits that he will reap when he is a grown-up. Here are a few tips on how you can foster his independence, self-reliance, and confidence:
#1 Have patience Notice that when you decide to put back all your child's toys in the toy box, even though she is more than capable of doing the task, you do it out of convenience (it faster when you do it).
However, your child needs to know that she’s capable of completing tasks on her own to build independence. “Habitually doing things for your child that she’s capable of doing herself sends an inadvertent message that you don’t have confidence in her abilities," psychologist Jeanne Williamstold Today's Parent. The first task to build independence is to know that things may get a little frustrating, mom, so have patience.
#2 Step back “Exploring toddlers get stuck in precarious places. The protector instinct in all parents makes us want to rush and rescue the stuck child,” said renowned pediatrician Dr. William Sears. However, as adults know, experience is life’s great teacher. So, try to avoid “rescuing” your child from situations you know she can solve on her own, said psychologist Ma. Araceli Balajadia-Alcala in an article for Smart Parenting.
Imagine your child having trouble carrying several toys at once or getting a piece of a puzzle to fit. “The more they think, become frustrated, and try out different ways of doing things, the more they become an ‘expert’ at figuring things out on their own,” said Balajadia-Alcala. Let your child think for himself, step back and cheer from the sidelines.
#3 Identify opportunities for independence Make a list or a mental note of all the daily tasks your child can do (and you’re willing to let her do) on her own. With that, prepare a child-friendly home for practicing independence, said a former Montessori teacher and school owner Mars Medina in an article for Smart Parenting. Have smaller versions of everyday items, like a water pitcher, and store them in spots your child can reach.
“If she wants a snack, she can get from a low kitchen drawer; if she wants water, she can pour into a glass on a low table; if she needs to clean up a spill, she can get a mop or a rag that is hung low,” said Medina. This way, your child can move and explore around the house without you worrying she might fall off a stool trying to reach something.
#4 Let him decide for himself Simple things can let your child know that he can do things for himself. If he wants to bring toys and books to a trip to the mall, let him bring a bag he can carry himself. Let him know that too many things can make the bag heavy and uncomfortable, but don’t be tempted to help carry it. Again, avoid “rescuing.”
Allow him to make decisions (that you’re comfortable with) on his own, like picking out what shoes to wear. Expect that he can do routine tasks too, like washing his hands before meals and brushing his teeth before bed. When you let your child take care of his own basic needs and wants at an early age, you might just be surprised at how competent she can be even as a toddler or preschooler. #5 Let your child accompany and “help” you do the house chores Helpers are indeed a blessing to Pinoy working parents, but your child should see you doing household chores as well. “Model and children will naturally want to do the same things by themselves,” said Medina. Little kids love to copy mom and dad.
When fostering independence, keep things fun and encouraging. If your child is tired or stressed, it may be difficult for her to do things on her own. “As with so many aspects of discipline, it’s a question of balance; giving the child enough slack to become an independent toddler, yet keeping the connection. A mother does not let her child go off entirely on their own, but she also doesn’t allow them to hang onto her skirt,” said Dr. Sears.
So, the next time you clean the car or tend to the garden, take your child with you. Prepare kid-sized sponges and watering cans so she can “help” you. Let go of perfection, and keep in mind that your child may not do the job properly, but your goal as a parent is to make sure that she’s learning. “Fixing” things afterward is small compensation.