As a teacher my question is ‘why would you not want your child to be independent?’ Parents are children’s first educators and as a parent myself, I know how exhausting it can be. Often with our busy lives it is quicker and simpler to do everything for your child, like putting on their shoes for example.
As a parent you may feel doing everything for your child shows them how much you love and care for them. You may think it is not safe for your child to learn by themselves. However, it is so important to allow your child their independence, no matter what your reasons for not doing so, and we will explain why.
Allowing children to find their own two feet in the world and learning things for themselves does wonders for all aspects of development (i.e., personal, social, and emotional). Knowing they can solve small problems makes them realise they can solve bigger problems and think for themselves.
If we do not have faith in children to be independent, how will they learn to do things, to make links and to have their own ideas? All of which are the characteristics of effective learning. If you do everything for your child, not only will they fail to learn, but they will also start to think they are not capable of learning. However, If you enable independence in the early years, it creates a path to lifelong learning.
Independence also helps children develop their personalities. The benefits for children include being more decisive, confident, and motivated. In addition, they will feel more emotionally secure and happy.
Children will also develop their fine motor skills while doing things for themselves. For example, even eating peas with fingers is great for practising hand eye coordination. Children will need all of these skills and what better way to learn than through trial and error? Children need to be able to make mistakes first hand so they learn not to repeat them.
It is important to always be available to support children in their independence; this does not mean you have to ‘teach independence’, rather you must support them when they become frustrated. This support will make them more willing to challenge themselves in the future as they will not give uo with sheer frustration.
How to Foster Independence
One way to instill independence is to give choices. A choice from two options can allow independence without being overwhelming. Children need to be given choices so that they are given some control; it is so important to develop their emotional maturity. There are so many things young children are told they cannot do due to safety it is important that where possible they have some choice. With repeated opportunities to make their own decisions children begin to think of themselves as in control of at least parts. They may be more accepting of not being able to control some things for example wearing a seat belt if they know they can control some things.
Settings can allow independence during free play and this can be mirrored at home with periods of independent play where children are given time on their own to discover and play with their toys. They can do this outside, free from distract of technology or anyone leading the play. As a child said when asked ‘what is play?’ ‘Play is what happens when there are no adults around.’
When can Children Become Independent?
When should you give independence? Right from birth, don’t think children need to be independent before they can be trusted because the only way children learn to be independent is to be independent. We should not underestimate children’s capabilities.
Independence equals growth
Maria Montessori believes that being independent is not just nice to have for children, “It’s a task they must accomplish in order to grow.” This passage explains why perfectly…
Diary of a 2 year old:
Today I woke up and wanted to get dressed by myself but was told “No, we don’t have time, let me do it.”
This made me sad. I wanted to feed myself for breakfast but was told “No, you’re too messy, let me do it for you.” This made me feel frustrated.
I wanted to walk to the car and get in on my own but was told, “No, we need to get going, we don’t have time. Let me do it.” This made me cry.
I wanted to get out of the car on my own but was told “No, we don’t have time, let me do it.” This made me want to run away.
Later I wanted to play with blocks but was told “no, not like that, like this…” I decided I didn’t want to play with blocks any more. I wanted to play with a doll that someone else had, so I took it, I was told “no, don’t do that, you have to share.”
I’m not sure what I did, but it made me sad. So I cried. I wanted a hug but was told “no, you’re fine, go play”.
I’m being told it’s time to pick up, I know this because someone keeps saying, “Go pick up your toys.” I am not sure what to do, I am waiting for someone to show me….”What are you doing, why are you just standing there, pick up your toys…Now.” I was not allowed to dress myself or move my own body to get to where I needed to go, but now I am being asked to pick things up.
I’m not sure what to do. Is someone supposed to show me how to do this? Where do I start? Where do these things go? I am hearing a lot of words but I do not understand what is being asked of me. I am scared and do not move. I lay down on the floor and cry.
When it was time to eat I wanted to get my own food but was told “no, you’re too little, let me do it.” This made me feel small. I tried to eat the food in front of me but I did not put it there and someone keeps saying “here, try this, eat this…” and putting things in my face. I didn’t want to eat anymore. This made me want to throw things and cry.
I can’t get down from the table because no one will let me…because I’m too small and I can’t. They keep saying I have to take a bite. This makes me cry more. I’m hungry and frustrated and sad. I’m tired and I need someone to hold me. I do not feel safe or in control. This makes me scared. I cry even more.
I am 2. No one will let me dress myself, no one will let me move my own body where it needs to go, no one will let me attend to my own needs.
However, I am expected to know how to share, “listen”, or “wait a minute”. I am expected to know what to say and how to act or handle my emotions. I am expected to sit still or know that if I throw something it might break….But, I do NOT know these things.
I am not allowed to practice my skills of walking, pushing, pulling, zipping, buttoning, pouring, serving, climbing, running, throwing or doing things that I know I can do. Things that interest me and make me curious, these are the things I am NOT allowed to do.
I am 2. I am frustrated. I am nervous, stressed out, overwhelmed, and confused. I need a hug.
Katherine Houghton is the founder of the Early Years Staffroom – the Early Years Resource and Planning website created by Early Years Experts with a shared philosophy. www.earlyyearsstaffroom.com
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