When she has free play in school, Ashley Tan, 5, takes the art materials from the shelves, then creates an animal mask with them. Once she’s done, she looks at her masterpiece with pride. However, her fellow classmate, James Yip, breaks down in tears when he can’t find his favourite truck in its usual place.
As parents, we hope to nurture a child like Ashley – one who is strong, responsible and capable of handling challenges independently. However, when a situation like James’ happens, we tend to rush to junior’s help almost immediately. You may not realise this, but by hovering over your child’s every move and protecting them from every threat that they may encounter, you’re hindering their ability to build their independence.
“If you really want your child to become self-sufficient and thrive without you, your role must be of a guider, not doer.”
Confucius once said, “The most beautiful sight in the world is a child going confidently down the road of life after you have shown the way.” Teaching your kiddo to rely on themselve from early childhood helps them manage their emotions and behaviour in the long run.
A child who is independent is also more likely to excel in their studies, develop better social skills and make better choices, which will greatly contribute to their success later in life. Moreover, you wouldn’t want to spend your retirement supporting an adult child, would you?
#1 Guide junior, not do things for them
“If you really want your child to become self-sufficient and thrive without you, your role must be of a guider, not doer,” notes educational psychologist Dr Michele Borba. Instead of jumping in and doing all the work when junior seeks your help, guide them by breaking down the task into steps. Not only will it feel like they’ve accomplished, but their confidence level and sense of independence will increase. If you have an older child at home, guide them to mentor the younger one and both children will benefit from this interaction.
#2 Provide opportunity and time
“Never do for a child what he is capable of doing for himself,” advises Elizabeth G Hainstock, author of Teaching Montessori in the Home. Don’t underestimate your little one’s abilities. Cleaning up their play area, wiping up spills and making their bed are some of the things that junior can do independently.
Provide a child-friendly environment that encourages independence, for instance, have themed toy bins for easy clean-ups and ensure essentials like water, tissue paper and stationery are within his reach. Carve out some extra time, when needed, for them to complete their task. Suggests Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, “Watch your child's daily routine and ask yourself, ‘What changes can I make to allow him to complete this task without my help?’”
#3 Encourage decision-making
Encourage your mini-me to make their own choices within reasonable limits. “I’ll usually provide Elsa with two to three options to give her a sense of control,” shares mum Lynette Chee, 34, of her 4-year-old daughter. “It can be daily activities such as preferences for meals, places she’d like to go and enrichment classes she’d like to take.” Once junior has made a decision, discuss the pros and cons with them. Let them understand that choices have consequences and allow room for failures.
Points out Dr Sam Goldstein, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Child Development, “You don't want them to be afraid of making mistakes ― they need to realise it is a part of life. When your child doesn't succeed at something, be sure to speak in problem-solving ways. Instead of saying, “I told you not to do it that way,” say something like, “Let’s try to do that part again and see if we can make it work.’”
Apart from praising junior directly, make it a habit to compliment him in front of someone else. This will increase his self-esteem and encourage independence.
#4 Establish a daily schedule
“My wife and I sit down with our 6-year-old boy every night to work on his schedule for the following day. We give him options and let him choose what he wants to do for the different time slots,” says Gideon Kang, 42. “This not only helps him understand time management but also allows him to establish a daily routine, like brushing his teeth, doing his homework and helping out with simple chores at home.”
Make a checklist and let junior tick off each completed task. This allows them to see their accomplishments, instils time management and promotes self-reliance.
#5 Compliment junior’s efforts
Positive reinforcement and praise are effective ways in building up your kiddo’s self-sufficiency. Let them know their efforts, although little, are greatly appreciated. “Toddlerhood is a crucial time and the precursor to adolescence, so parents should praise even the smallest accomplishments at first ― putting on their socks, pouring their own juice ― to advance them on the path to self-reliance," says Dr Frances Walfish, a child, couple and family psychotherapist.
Apart from praising junior directly, make it a habit to compliment them in front of someone else. This will increase their self-esteem and encourage independence. Instead of just saying, “Wayne has been very well-behaved lately”, elaborate by giving reason for the praise. It could sound like, “Wayne did his homework all by himself. I’m so proud of him.” Or, “Emily swept the floor without me asking. She’s such a darling!”
Last of all, give your tot lots of love and patience, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly they will be able to stand on their own two feet in no time!
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