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Promoting Independence in Children

At Starfish Greathearts Foundation, we believe that every child has the ability to develop skills through their daily experiences. Trusting in their abilities and providing them with the tools they need to participate independently in life, is one of the most valuable gifts parents/caregivers can give to children. Promoting independence in children not only boosts self-esteem and confidence but empowers them to actively participate in their own learning journey, and become confident and active members of their community as they grow up. This blog post was sourced from one of our partners, OT Carolina Mora. Dr. Mora has generously donated her time and support to assist practitioners in our community based organizations in ensuring that they use her valuable input. 

20240429 BM Learn Through Play Promoting Independence in Children (4)

What are self-care and self-help skills and why are they important? 

When we talk about independence in children, acquiring two main skills becomes important as they grow: self-care and self-help skills.  Self-care is all about taking care of oneself without relying on others. It includes activities that promote personal health and hygiene to maintain their physical, mental, and emotional well-being, such as bathing, grooming, dressing, eating nutritiously, getting enough sleep, and managing stress. On the other hand, self-help skills are about being able to handle everyday tasks independently, it can include self-care activities but also more complex ones such as cleaning up after yourself, offering to help around the house, managing money and following instructions.  

These skills play a crucial role in children’s development for several reasons: 

  • They help children become more independent and confident in participating in daily tasks and responsibilities.  
  • They cultivate healthy habits from a young age that promote physical and mental well-being, laying a strong foundation for adulthood. 
  • They cultivate a proactive approach to problem-solving and decision-making. 
  • They encourage creativity and innovation as children explore different ways to accomplish tasks and overcome challenges. 
  • They foster resilience by teaching children to adapt to changes and get back from difficult situations. 
  • They foster a sense of belonging within their community as they contribute with their actions. 
  • They facilitate social interactions, communication and cooperation as children learn to collaborate with others and ask for help. 
How can I support independence in children? 

Create the perfect learning environment for their needs:  

  • Equip the child’s spaces with tools that encourage and facilitate independence: place a stool near the sink for them to wash their hands by themselves or place a small rack with their clothes at their height for them to pick what to wear.  
  • Offer plenty of opportunities throughout the day for the child to handle tasks on their own and make sure that the activities you present align with their abilities and interests. Remember, while some children may be ready for certain activities at their age, others may not be quite there yet, and that's okay! Offer support and encouragement as they learn and grow. 

Give lessons: 

  • Children learn by observing and imitating, show them how things are or can be done and reflect on these with the child.  
  • To succeed at a big task, it's often helpful to break it down into smaller, more manageable steps that this child can handle. Be patient and acknowledge these small successes. 

Let them take the lead!  

  • Follow your child’s lead. Allow children to take initiative, make choices, learn from mistakes and keep trying.  

Give them space:  

  • Allow children to take risks, problem-solve through challenges and just figure it out without your help. Many adults have crossed the line from helping to hindering without realizing that their good intentions can have negative consequences. Holding them back might make them feel like you don't trust them or don't think they have the skills to do it on their own. 

Use your language to encourage independence:  

  • Cheer on kids for trying to do things on their own, even if they don't succeed. Use language that boosts their confidence and resilience. 
  • Make sure your body language matches your words. Keep an eye on your posture, gestures, and facial expressions to create a positive and supportive atmosphere.

Developing independence is a lifelong journey: don’t rush it! 

While most kids are naturally inclined to want to do things for themselves, and parents also strive for their kids to be as independent as possible, it's crucial to remember that teaching independence is a gradual process. Each child is unique, and there are age-appropriate skills that develop naturally with time.  

Take a look at the following example regarding dressing skills:

Dressing Skills Dev.

According to the chart, children at 2 years old are usually able to take off their shoes and socks. However, it's unrealistic to expect them to put them back on at this age because they haven't developed the necessary physical and cognitive skills yet. The same principle applies to every self-care or self-help task, whether it's feeding, using the toilet, grooming, managing money or assisting with daily chores. Rushing children in their learning process can lead to frustration and hinder their overall development. Additionally, pushing them too hard may cause them to lose interest in learning. It's crucial to allow children the time and space they need to explore and learn at a pace that suits their individual needs and interests.