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How to build independence in children

Children are developing independent skills from the day they are born- whether it is holding their head up, beginning to feed themselves, or choosing their own clothes. Opportunities to develop independence in children play an integral part in developing a sense of self and self-esteem, not to mention overcoming frustrations and learning perseverance.

The hardest part about supporting your child in developing independence is accepting that the task can take twice as long and can be three times as messy! It can also be hard to watch your child try, become frustrated, fail, and become disappointed. Here are some ideas to help nurture the budding independence in children.

1. Set predictable routines

Consistent routines nurture independence, and when knowing what is coming next, a child is better equipped to take on responsibilities. Routine is not the same as a schedule, but a sequence of events that occur throughout the day. It is multiple steps that take place before something can happen, such as, going outside involves putting on your coat and shoes first.

2. Letting your child choose

Another way of encouraging independence is to give children choices, such as involving them in what to wear or what to play with. Provide your child with two or three options, and praise their ability to make a choice. Offering a choice is especially valuable when a child insists on doing things their way. It is about empowering a child whilst also maintaining control over the situation.

3. Letting your child help

Children love to help! In addition to building independence, this is also very helpful for redirecting unwanted behaviours as it gives children a sense of control. When you allow your child to help, you foster confidence and give them opportunities to learn something new. While it may involve adding extra steps to what normally would be a straightforward task, it is a great way of involving children in daily activities.

4. Giving a child responsibility

By giving your child jobs to do, you help to build up their sense of responsibility and self-reliance, developing executive function, and nurturing empathy. Simple things like putting their toys away when they have finished playing with them will give a child a sense of responsibility and help maintain structure throughout the day.

5. Nurture free play

Independent and unstructured play is very important for developing creativity, problem-solving, and autonomy. However, children will still want adult attention. You can participate by commenting on what they are doing, but not intervening. Giving your child opportunities to explore and experiment without adult interference is integral to a child developing a sense of achievement and independence to keep trying when something doesn’t work out the first time.

As important as it is to give children opportunities to build independence; it is just as important to let your child know that you see their efforts, perseverance, and growth. You can do this by offering verbal feedback, giving positive attention to the qualities you want your child to have, which makes it more likely that you will see this behaviour again. Independence is not about making sure a child can do everything for themselves, it’s about making your child resilient and ensuring that they know it’s ok to fail and that they can keep trying after that.


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