During the early years, it is only natural that we take care of our children’s self-care tasks, as they have yet to gain the skills and stability to get these done by themselves. However, psychologists and early childhood experts warn that making this a habit as they grow up could lead to a host of behavioural problems in children and hinder them from picking up some of the most important life skills.
Jeanne Williams, a Canadian psychologist says that habitually doing things for your children that they are capable of doing by themselves sends a subtle message that you, as a parent, do not have confidence in their abilities. This results in a child who lacks the independence, self-esteem and problem-solving skills who can’t (or won’t) do age-appropriate tasks – also known as “learned helplessness”.
Similarly, Jim Taylor, Ph.D. who teaches psychology at the University of San Francisco says that independence is not something your children can learn on their own, as they lack the perspective, experience and skills to develop this skill. Instead, he emphasises that parents “give independence as a gift to their children”, as it is one which they will cherish and benefit from for the rest of their lives.
The good news is that it is not too late to teach your children to gain independence, and these tips serve as a good starting point:
1. Teach problem-solving skills
Children were not born with the natural ability to problem-solve independently – they rely on their parents to teach them. While some may pick up this skill as they get more practice working on challenging tasks, there is also the tendency to be dependent on parent intervention.
One useful strategy to use in situations like this is the “try three” method. This involves getting your children to come up with three strategies on their own first to solve their problems. When none of those work, step in to brainstorm with your children using these three points:
- State the problem
- Identify the barriers to fixing the problems
- List three possible solutions
By showing them how to break down the problem into manageable parts, your children will learn to take control and solve problems independently.
2. Encourage exploration
According to Taylor, most parents keep their children on a fairly short “leash” during the early years to ensure their safety. This builds your child’s sense of security and teaches them that they have a safe place to return to and that you are there to protect them when needed.
However, there is a fine line to establish between security and dependence. Once your children have established their sense of security, we should encourage them to explore the world beyond the “safety net”. This push factor gives children the opportunity to test their capabilities in the “real world” and helps them find a sense of competence, security and independence within themselves.
3. Don’t push
While there is a need to let our children spread their wings and fly as previously discussed, do bear in mind that there are some who need more time and emotional support before getting to that point of readiness. Let them take the lead in this aspect and be there for them to show unconditional love and support. Once they feel safe and secure, they will progress towards independence.
4. Look out for opportunities
Help your child to get started on the journey to independence by making a list of things that he/she can start doing solo. You might also want to get him/her involved by asking which tasks he/she feels confident enough to take on – this will increase his/her willingness to try. Check out this article for some suggested tasks to add to your list.
5. Create an independent environment
Get down to your child’s height and take a look at the setup of your home. Is he/she able to reach for things without assistance? Establishing a child-friendly home environment gives children the comfort and confidence to operate on their own, as they learn to meet their own needs.
Helping your child embrace failure helps to instil a sense of independence in them. More on this and other tips to teach children to be more independent on the next page.