Teach them while they're young! That's my motto because once they hit their teens, they (think they) already know everything :-). In last week's Parenting Tip, we talked about giving your children age-appropriate options to choose from to help them feel in control and develop decision-making skills. This week we're going to delve into how to give your child a sense of independence by teaching them what to do and by building their self-confidence.
Parenting Tip - Fostering Independence
Children like to feel in control. They like to be given choices and they like to be able to do things for themselves, even when it's clear to us that they're not yet able to make those decisions or achieve such lofty goals. So, it's our responsibility to give them the opportunities to make decisions and to do things for themselves that we know they're developmentally ready to handle.
It's a bit like training a puppy (but hopefully without the nipping). You want to be setting them up for success. You need to remind yourself that often these skills don't come naturally and need to be taught first. Even we, as smart as we think we are, weren't born knowing how to dress ourselves or complete our tax returns (still don't but that's another story), and we certainly didn't get everything right on the first try.
Fostering independence and teaching your child how to do things requires patience, perseverance and resilience (for them and for you) - all of which are important skills that need to be developed.
It’s important that you give your children the tools that they need for success. Success breeds confidence and independence. Failure however (even at a minor level), can negatively affect their self-esteem and self-worth. You can't teach a child how to do things for themselves without teaching them how. They need to be patiently shown, explained, and taught.
A child may want to do things for themselves but it doesn't mean they actually know how to do it or are ready to doing it. Take, for example, Velcro sneakers. They are easy to put on and take off and are appropriate for a 2-3 year old who wants to put on their own shoes. Most kids that age won't have the fine motor skills or the coordination to navigate a knot and bow to tie their own laces. Sneakers with laces would be more appropriate for a 5+ year old.
So you give the two year old the velcro shoes, over the ones with laces. Why? Because a child gains confidence and is successful in their endeavor, because they were set up for success. Had you given them tennis shoes with laces, chances are they would have gotten frustrated and dejected at not being able to tie them themselves and and it'd probably put them off trying all together, all because they weren't developmentally ready for the challenge.
But of course, even at the age of 5, you can't just give your them a pair laces and expect them to figure it out for themselves anymore than you can expect to show them just once or twice how to tie a bow. It takes time to learn a new skill. It has to be taught, and practiced.
But as with anything, don't start teaching anything when you're in a rush to leave the house or when you're already feeling stressed out. Provide a calm environment, make it fun, allow your kid plenty of opportunities to make mistakes. Praising their attempts (and appreciating their determination, self-discipline and perseverance) will help boost their confidence and make them less likely to quit trying. When you sense they're getting frustrated or bored, suggest taking a break - tell them they did a great job trying so hard and that you'll try again later/another day.
The path to independence can be slow and frustrating for both you, the adult, and your child, and perseverance and patience are the key. And even though we know it'll be faster/neater/easier to do it for them, you need to let them go through the process, following it through to eventual success.
Don't forget, offer supportive words and encouraging smiles as they fumble with their first or even fifth attempt. Celebrating their improvements and achievements (no matter how minor) and let them see the confidence on your face, no matter how much they may be struggling to get it right. Give them the time and conviction to try and try again. The look of joy and accomplishment on their face will be worth it! And do not panic if they're not getting it as fast you'd like them to. Every kid progresses at their own pace and some kids pick up certain tasks faster than others. Thats ok. Chances are, your child won't graduate college not knowing how to tie their own laces!
To view last week's previous parenting tip, click here.