Fostering an Independent Child
There are many gifts we give our children throughout their lives. The lasting treasures are always difficult to achieve, but the effort is worth it. We want our children to be independent, mature and responsible. We have to worry about the mixed messages we often inadvertently give.
Parents are always eager for their child to become independent (walking, talking, toilet-training). They are anxious to have their child learn to clean up messes, put their toys away etc. Yet, that same parent will tell you all of this while dressing their child or feeding them.
Your child will need you for many years to come, not for dressing or making their bed, but to set the example for their foundation in the development of morals and values. When you verbally request responsibility and maturity, then do the things for your child that he/she can do for themselves, you are giving mixed signals.
Parents who know they’ll never have another baby try to hold on to their last for as long as they can. Don’t worry, there are many, many important ways your child needs you so let go and encourage him/her whenever their independence not only helps their self-esteem, but gives you more time to do activities that are really important and enjoyable.
There are many ways you can accomplish this. Have them dress in clothes that they can take on and off. When you give a child a belt or overalls they cannot unfasten, what are you saying? Here is something else you cannot do. This includes shoes with laces or one piece outfits. Children who are toilet trained do not want to ask a teacher for help. A little girl with a one-piece outfit may have no trouble removing it, but if she cannot do up the buttons, she may decide to come out of the washroom to ask for help without any clothes on.
Getting a pair of wonderful running shoes with laces should be a reward for learning to tie. Until that day comes, parents and teachers are retying laces when we are not the ones who need practice!
In Montessori, we try to prove to a child over and over how capable they are. The materials are kept where they can be reached. The cleaning supplies are available immediately so they may clean up their own messes. Many activities are self-correcting so children need not ask a teacher if they have done something correctly. The materials tell them. All this builds up their self-esteem for the big activities they will need confidence to do in the future (such as mathematics).
Help your children develop confidence. Give them tasks like making their bed, setting the table, folding their laundry and dressing themselves. If you think about the steps required before you show your child how to do these things and imagine you are two feet tall, you may be surprised at how many tedious chores you do for your child that they would love to do for themselves.
As the mother of former teenagers, let me tell you that the amount of years a child begs you to vacuum and dust are few. Don’t waste them! Include your child in the running of the household. If you want them to feel like partners and valuable members of your home, make them an important part of its operation. Take every opportunity to tell them that their help gives you more free time to spend doing the activities they would like to do with you. That is reward enough for many children. And your reward is their help.
These early years pass so quickly and will never be recaptured. Quality time is anything you enjoy doing together. The conversations you will have with your child while they are loading the dishwasher or sweeping the floor will provide you with some unique insights on life that only your child can give you. Besides, good help is hard to find—use it while you can.