We get it. Raising children seems harder than ever these days. ‘Give your children the life you didn’t have. But don’t spoil them. Give them the world. But don’t do too much for them.’ We are here to partner with you on this journey and swim with you through the sea of opinions and advice. According to Dr. Montessori, “The child’s nature is to aim directly and energetically at functional independence.” We’ve all seen it: a small child kicking and screaming as she is being carried out of a public space, a three year old squalling that he can do it by himself. We often see these episodes as bad behavior, but these children are sending a message: help me do it myself!
Children are naturally aiming toward independence, but adults don’t always hear their message clearly. Without realizing it, our well intended help can become an obstacle on a child’s path to independence. Whether this is your child’s first adventure away from home or they have been in someone else’s care since they were six weeks old, there are things you can do right now to support their journey to independence.
Here are our top ten things your child can do right now:
1. Your Child Can Put On Their Own Clothes and Shoes
The key to allowing your child to be independent in dressing is to allow enough time for them to try as many times as they need. Be sure to get up early enough that you can be near your child while they get dressed, so you can coach as needed. Use positive phrasing! If you have seen your child put on a t-shirt before, a simple, “You can put your shirt on,” is all the coaching they will need.
2. Your Child Can Carry Any Item Into School (even heavy things!)
Young children are capable of carrying their belongings into school and into the studio on their own. Parents can help support children in this process, using positive phrases, such as “I know it’s heavy, but you can do it.”
3. Your Child Can Make Choices about What They Wear and Eat (Within Reason)
Adults can support their child in the decision-making process by narrowing down the selection of acceptable choices. For example, during the winter months, only have a selection of winter clothes and shoes available in your child’s closet. Have your child help make their own lunch and provide guidance like, “What kind of fruit would you like in your lunch?” Or “For breakfast, would you like eggs or yogurt?”
4. Your Child Can Walk
As you know, children are not notorious for rushing and that’s okay! Leave enough time for your child to walk into the building, which may mean they stop occasionally because something they see interests them. Children’s sense of time is different from an adult’s. If letting them walk in by themselves makes them tardy to school, that’s okay too! If you’re worried your child will bolt, feel free to hold their hand and let them know that the expectation is that they will walk with you.
5. Your Child Can Open and Close Lunch Containers
For a child to feel successful during lunch it is important that they be independent, which means they should be able to carry their own lunchbox and open all of their containers. Children love being able to do things for themselves; the independence and freedom of being able to open their own lunch items certainly builds their confidence. Have fun with practicing opening those containers before they are sent in.
6. Your Child Can Blow Their Own Nose
You can encourage appropriate nose blowing etiquette by modeling this yourself, because blowing can be tricky for some children. Also keeping several boxes of tissue strategically placed around the house on their level where they can reach, helps divert snot from sleeves.
7. Your Child Can Wipe Themselves After Using the Toilet and Clean Up Accidents
If you have seen your child wipe themself then the next time they ask, “Can you help me wipe?” you can say, “You can wipe and you may wipe yourself.” If you are concerned with them not wiping well enough then you can teach them to wipe until the tissue is clean. Accidents happen and when they do they can change their own clothes, they can clean up, and then wash their hands thoroughly.
8. Your Child Can Put Away Their Belongings
You can make sure your home is accessible for your child. You can place hooks low on the wall for their jackets, baskets for shoes or accessories like hats and mittens, clothes you want them to wear in lowest drawers, food/snacks you want them to eat in crisper drawers, cups and dishes and silverware in a low cabinet. When the environment is prepared and consistent, it is easy for your child to put away their belongings.
9. Your Child Can Speak for Himself or Herself
Part of our role at school is to let your child find their voice and know when to use their voice. Like most everything else when fostering independence in small children, providing your child with enough time to speak or answer a question is important. And although it may be tempting, we should avoid filling in the gaps when we think a child is stuck or not answering quick enough. We can also let children know when someone is looking at you, then they are listening to to you.
10. Your Child Can Clean Big and Small Spills and Messes
At school, we say yes to the accidental mess! Think of every spill as an opportunity to learn how to clean up, care for their environment, and become more independent. Keeping cleaning rags, brooms, and dustpans in a space where your child can access them, helps facilitate this process.
To see independence in action, check out this short video (below) and know that Montessori said it best: “How does he achieve this independence? He does it by means of a continuous activity. How does he become free? By means of constant effort. …we know that development results from activity. The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.” (The Absorbent Mind)