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Encouraging Independence – 9 Tips for Parents of Preschoolers

“I’ll do it myself!” If you’re a parent of a preschooler, you’ve likely heard this a thousand times.

Of course, it’s usually when you are running late that 4-year-old Cathy decides to put on her own socks and shoes. So you help her – but this time only!

Preschool experts say that children should be encouraged whenever they wish to exert their independence. Even though they may need plenty of parental help, preschoolers are typically able to do more than we expect from them.

So how can we as parents encourage their independence?

According to Diane Kinder, PhD and a professor at the University of Washington, “It takes more time in the beginning to teach independence, but in the long run, it benefits both parent and child.”

Here are some tips to encourage independence in young children:

  1. Expect more. At Montessori Kids Universe, children are expected to clean up after themselves, hang up their jackets, and pour their own water at snack time. However, when they leave the classroom…they change! The thumb goes in the mouth and the lunch bag is handed over to the parents. Maybe it’s a good idea to raise the expectation bar a bit more and allow children to stretch and meet it.
  2. Resist doing it for them. It might be quicker and easier for you to help them put on their shoes, but in the long run it won’t help children become more self-sufficient. Instead, ask them if they can do it themselves or if they need help. The words will work like magic and most children will take pride in doing it on their own.
  3. Assign chores. Assigning children age-appropriate chores not only builds their confidence but also helps them feel more capable as contributing members of the family.
  4. Don’t redo. Resist the urge to help children between tasks or “fix” their work. Praise them for what they have done well. If you redo their work, you might discourage them from trying in the future. If you find your child getting frustrated with a task or having difficulty, don’t just take over. Instead, say, “Wow, you did a great job and we’ll do it again tomorrow.” Don’t let them give up. You want them to learn perseverance and dedication to a task.
  5. No ifs. Most of us have a habit of saying, “If you clean up your books, we will go to the park.” How about saying, “When you are done cleaning up, we’ll go to the park.” Give it a try and see how a minor change in the sentence transforms children’s attitude.
  6. Let them work it out. Kids often get into mini squabbles about petty issues, and you won’t always be there to referee. Stand back and let kids work out their own problems (unless the mini tiff has turned into a beating competition).
  7. Involve them. If your daughter has colored on the walls, have her help wash it off. If she knocks over her friend’s block tower, tell her to reconstruct it. Include her in righting her wrongdoings.
  8. Lighten up. We parents also get frustrated easily. It’s okay if your children are not perfectly setting the table or buttoning their shirts. They are young and still learning. Let them learn at their own pace and make mistakes along the way.

As parents, we struggle when our children struggle. But have patience, take a step back, and watch from the sidelines so your children can learn new skills – regardless of the time it takes.

May 3rd, 2017

Posted In: Tips

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