For many parents, the transition from dependence to independence seems to happen naturally. Around the age of 2 many kids start to want to do things by themselves. “Me do it, Mommy!” becomes a phrase that is heard often around the house.
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Or at least in many of my friends’ houses. In mine, my 2.5 year old son, Onetime, is still quite happy to let me pick out his clothes, dress him, and brush his teeth – you get the picture!
In fact, some days he still asks me to feed him or carry him up the stairs – both things he can do without difficulty. It would seem that what is naturally “supposed” to happen, doesn’t always happen with every child at the same time. (Author’s Update: About 2 weeks after writing this post – Onetime began saying “Me do it!” Yay!)
Big surprise – right? But, if I’ve learned nothing from becoming a parent, it is that all kids are different and have their own timelines, and each parent has their own challenges and joys with their very unique kids!
The irony with my son is that he is very confident.
When we go to any new play centre he can’t run away from me fast enough to try out new toys and see new sights. So, my focus lately with him has been on helping him become more independent in looking after himself.
I recently attended a workshop featuring Barbara Coloroso, author of Kids Are Worth It!. Her thinking on the topic of independence is that if we want our kids to eventually be independent and responsible citizens, we have to start at a very young age by allowing them to practise making decisions and choices for themselves.
Strategy #1: LET KIDS MAKE CHOICES FOR THEMSELVES
Barbara talks about how toddlers can handle 2 choices, preschoolers can handle up to 3 choices, and older kids can start to handle more complex choices. So – I made up a list of ideas for choices for each that I have gathered from experience, talking with other moms, and from various readings.
Barbara Coloroso also talks about the importance of honouring your child’s choice – unless it is morally threatening or life-threatening. For example, if your child picks out an uncoordinated outfit for the day, allow them to go with that choice! If they want to ride their bike without a helmet, that is obviously not a choice for safety reasons.
Strategy #2: HONOUR YOUR CHILD’S STRUGGLE
Speaking of honouring children, two other favourite parenting gurus of mine, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk), talk about another strategy that can really help boost independence.
They advise parents to “honour the struggle” when our kids are trying a new skill and are experiencing difficulty with it. The idea is not to jump in and do it for them, but to acknowledge that learning something new can be difficult, and show that your believe that your child can accomplish the skill.
For example, Onetime is struggling with learning to put on his own shoes. He would rather I do it for him, and I have to admit, when we’re in a rush, I sometimes give in and put them on for him (I have to work on that!).
Faber and Mazlish would advise me to say some thing like:
“I know you can put on these shoes yourself.” Show that you believe in them.
“It can be really tricky getting the back of your foot in.” Acknowledge that the skill is difficult for the child.
“Sometimes it helps if you use your thumb to pull the back of the shoe out.” Give a little tip to help if needed.
Usually, when I use some of these phrases, my son persists with this time-consuming (for him) task.
Sometimes, after I’ve tried all these things and he still can’t accomplish something, he says, “I can’t do it!” to which I reply, “You can’t do it by yourself YET!“
The Canadian Association of Family Resource Programs suggests then saying something like, “This isn’t easy for you. What part might you be able to do?” which I think is a great idea. Then you are helping, but still encouraging your child to be as independent as they can be at the time.
These two strategies, allowing children to practise making decisions for themselves, and honouring their struggle, are powerful. They both put the child in a position of independence, and give them power over themselves.
Kids Books to Encourage Independence
As you may already know – we read a LOT at our house! I have found some great kids books that go along really well with this topic. They all focus on kids growing up and learning to do things on their own, and the sense of self-esteem that comes from that.
I Can Do Anything That’s Everything All On My Own (Charlie and Lola)
I Can Tie My Own Shoes
On My Own: Helping Kids Help Themselves
I Can Do It!: A First Look at Not Giving Up
I Can Do It Too!
I Knew You Could!: A Book for All the Stops in Your Life (A personal favourite of mine! Great analogy for life’s ups and downs and the importance of continuing to persist with difficult situations.)
Here’s to our children growing up…and becoming their independent, BEST selves!