I was always focused on encouraging independence in my children – or so I thought. When my oldest was a preschooler we created a morning routine chart that helped getting ready for school go more smoothly, and the kids know to bring their dishes to the kitchen after meals and so on. But somewhere along the way I lost sight of this goal and didn’t really develop the idea more. In the whirlwind of life after adding a third child, we switched into survival mode and never evolved our roles any further.
Now that my youngest is a toddler and we have finally come up for air, I have implemented some long overdue upgrades to our routines, so that my boys can gain confidence in their ability to take care of themselves and contribute to the family. Oh yes, and give me a little break as well! It is amazing how much extra time those minutes a day add up to! After an initial “training” period, you’ll be amazed at how much easier things are for you once your kids are taking care of more of those daily tasks, developing important life skills along the way.
Disclosure: I received complimentary copies of the books below for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Encouraging Independence in Children
Why is it important for us to worry about encouraging independence? Yes, there is an American obsession with raising independent children, but it’s more than just that. Teaching children to take care of their own needs can paradoxically help them feeling more a part of the family or classroom unit, as they feel they are making a valuable contribution to the group. They also become more confident in their own abilities, giving them a solid boost to their self-esteem without the need to resort to empty platitudes. Plus – let’s be honest – raising kids who can do more for themselves gives parents and teachers a break from taking care of basic needs so they can concentrate on higher level needs, whether it be algebra or family movie night.
So here our my top tips for encouraging independence in children, plus favorite picture books about getting dressed. I’d love to hear your tips and experiences in the comments!
Brainstorm a List of Tasks Together
Step one is to develop a list of tasks with your kids that they can start doing around the house or the classroom, such as making their own breakfasts, cleaning their rooms, and so on. Of course you will have some ideas in mind and can help guide the conversation, but it is essential that the children participate and help shape the outcome. Right off the bat you are helping them develop critical thinking and team building skills, plus by getting them involved in the process you are helping take ownership of the project. Make it a fun project that you are working on together, rather than work you are imposing on them.
Try to keep from having vague assignments like “clean your room.” This can be confusing to a child, who may interpret this very differently from you! Instead, try “put your toys into the toy baskets” or “put dirty clothes in the hamper.”
Invest Time in Training
We can’t ask our children to do tasks without actually teaching them how to do them. At first this may feel odd because it is self-evident to you how to make yourself a bowl of cereal, but this may not be the case for your four year old! Go through the steps with them (probably over the course of a few days, depending on the age of the child), and be prepared to spend 4 times as long as you would as if you had just done it yourself. For this reason, it may be easier for everyone to introduce only one new task a week.
Don’t give into temptation and therefore just do it yourself! Even though it will take longer in the beginning (and probably be messier), remember that you are helping train competent kids and, therefore, competent adults. It is worth the investment at the beginning when you are encouraging independence, because they will eventually get the hang of it!
A woman I know used to always complain that her husband never shared in the family grocery shopping. After much coaxing on her part, he eventually took over some of this chore. It was a big help to her – until he started bringing home items that she hadn’t put on the list! What she hadn’t foreseen is that he would start to become interested and make decisions on his own about what to buy, rather than just follow her list. By involving him in the tasks, she had unwittingly invited him into the process and lost some of her control over it, which she hadn’t even realized she had enjoyed.
In a similar way, when children take over tasks around the house or classroom, we need to loosen up the reins a bit and let them into the decision-making process. Obviously a parent-child relationship is different than a marital one, but the same principle of control applies. If we really want our children to take ownership of the task, we have to let them do just that. That doesn’t mean you have no say in what they pack for lunch, for example, just that you can be flexible and give them more room to make choices within set boundaries. For example, you might give them guidelines for what to pack (a protein, a fruit, a treat) and let them maneuver within those.
Milk will be spilled. Toothpaste will be splattered. Orange plaid shorts will be paired with pink tops. It is not the end of the world. In fact, it is part of the process of children learning to be more careful, to clean up their messes, and to (hopefully) be presentable in public. Decide what your limits are, but then know when to bite your tongue, take a deep breath, and go do something in another room.
Give Them a Break
Don’t overwhelm children by adding too many tasks at once, especially if this is a significant change from how your family or class has been functioning. Give them time to adjust, and then periodically give them a break from their tasks. For example, I’ve recently been training my sons to make their own breakfasts, but I let them choose one day that I’ll make it for them. It is a simple thing, but they love it, and it helps on those mornings when they really can’t get themselves going. Even though your ultimate goal is encouraging independence, everyone deserves a break now and then.
Picture Books About Getting Dressed
Help them celebrate their independence with these fun picture books about getting dressed! Learning to dress yourself is a milestone for many children, and these wonderful books play on that fascination and teach skills at the same time.
My toddler and preschooler both love A Good Day for a Hat. Thankfully it is one that I enjoy reading as well, even multiple times a day! It is a cute book about a bear who has a hat for every occasion, from facing a fire-breathing dragon to joining a marching band! This is lucky, because it seems that every time he opens his door the situation has completely changed and he has to go back inside and change his hat. This goes on for some time, until finally he has to forgo the perfect hat in order to make it to his friend’s house on time – so instead he piles all of his hats on his head, so he’ll be ready for anything! A silly book children will enjoy, especially if they feel like they are made to change their outfits one too many times!
If ever there was a mismatched pair, it is Fox and Ox in I Lost My Sock!: A Matching Mystery. Fox has lost his sock, and his friend Ox just can’t seem to get it right when it comes to finding the matching sock! Young children will enjoy pointing out why the sock Ox has found doesn’t match this time (“It doesn’t have dots!” “Wrong color!”) and laugh themselves silly when Ox finally does find the sock – but thinks it is a hat for him instead! Great for developing early math concepts such as pattern, shape, and color recognition.
My Kicks: A Sneaker Story! is a fun book for slightly older children. When a boy’s mother forces him to give up his beloved, well-worn sneakers for a new pair, he reminisces about the memories behind each stain and tear. Yet when he actually tries on a great pair of shiny new kicks, he discovers that a new pair of sneakers may be just what he needs! A great story for any child forced to give up a favorite shirt or pair of shoes, and a wonderful metaphor for learning to let go of the past as children grow up and move on to new things. Even includes a step by step tutorial on tying your shoes!
How are you encouraging independence with your own children or students?