6 Little Things You Can Do Every Day to Make Your Child More Independent
As parents, we want our children to be independent. But it's not always easy for them to become more self-sufficient and responsible. Some of this is because our instinct as parents is often to make things easier for them, rescue them from their mistakes, and limit their experiences with struggle or (gasp) failure.
It takes time and effort to make your child more independent, but the rewards are well worth it.
Here are some simple things you can do every day to help your little one be more independent.
Let Them Make Mistakes
It may seem counterintuitive at first, but letting kids make mistakes will teach them how to succeed in life. When they make a mistake, let them know it's OK and help them brainstorm how they might do better next time.
This mindset shift can guide anything from small mistakes, like choosing not to bring an umbrella when the forecast calls for rain, to larger ones, like failing a test because they decided to wait until the night before to study.
It's hard to see your child struggle. But if you focus on teaching them that failure is just feedback, it helps develop a growth mindset, and with that mindset, they will be able to overcome any struggle confidently.
Involve Them in Authentic Household Tasks
Try to encourage your child to take on small tasks like cleaning up toys after playtime, helping put away groceries, and picking up their room. Make sure you are giving them chores that are age-appropriate and necessary. Kids are much more willing to help out when they feel they contribute to the household authentically.
The tasks don't have to be big, just something that requires them to think ahead and plan. For example, if there is laundry piling up, ask them what they think should happen. Encourage them to bring a pile of laundry to the washing machine. See if they can help you put clothes into the machine. Maybe they want to help push the button. That's awesome! All of these small tasks are needed to start laundry, and by involving them, they will feel empowered (and eventually, they will get to the point where they can do their laundry!).
Offer Choices and Freedom But Within Limits
Offering freedom and allowing children to make choices is a great way to empower them, build confidence in their decision-making skills, and help build a sense of responsibility. When children can make their own choices, there are more significant opportunities for them to experience natural consequences.
Giving plenty of opportunities for kids to make their own choices is one way parents can show children that their preferences, wants, and needs are respected. The more practice kids have making choices for themselves, the better.
Keep in mind that if kids have too many options, they can get overwhelmed. So instead of saying what do you want to do today? Ask them if they would rather go to the playground or for a hike? Try to offer two or three options that you are comfortable with—this helps you say "yes" to whatever option they pick.
Give Them Space
Children need space to learn and develop. And they aren't likely to become more independent if they never have the chance to actually be independent. Encourage independence by giving your child plenty of opportunities to explore without being overly supervised. If they are playing in another room, let them play without you checking in on them (or if you must check-in, try to be discreet). Let them walk a little ahead of you on the sidewalk (use your best judgment based on the street traffic). Send them out to get the mail if your mailbox is a safe distance away. Give them a chance to go inside the cafe, order, and pay for their lunch while you watch from a safe distance.
Try to find at least one way every day where your child can accomplish something "on their own" without you right by their side.
As much as possible, avoid correcting your child when they are trying to do something independently. For example, if you ask your little one to make their bed, and it isn't perfect, resist the urge to fix it (hard, I know!). Always try to keep in mind that perfection isn't the goal. The goal is to allow your little one to take on the responsibility. They will not want to keep trying if every time they do, they are corrected.
Design Your Space With Independence in Mind
How you organize your space is going to impact your kid's ability to practice being independent. Are your little ones capable of reaching their cups, plates, forks, and napkins? Is there a pitcher of water they can use to refill their cup if they get thirsty? Do you have a lightweight hamper so they can be in charge of bringing their clothes to the laundry room? Can they access a sink and soap to wash their hands without help?
Think about ways you can increase the chances of your child being able to do something independently. For example, you could use a lower rack for clothes, so they are more easily accessible. Add a hook at eye level for them to hang their backpack after school. Keep a step stool near the kitchen to get their snack from the fridge or pantry without help.
Just remember that the more you do for them, the less they have to do for themselves. Stop and ask yourself: Do you do too much for your child? If you do, write this Maria Montessori quote somewhere visible: "Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed." The key to helping kids become more independent is to actively and confidently allow them to be independent.
Alanna Gallo is a writer, parent educator, and play advocate passionate about helping parents simplicity back to childhood. She is the founder of Play. Learn. Thrive., and hosts a weekly podcast dedicated to empowering parents to raise confident and independent children. You can check out her Purposeful Playspace course or sign up for a FREE Beginners Guide to Play here. You can also attend her three-day Fam Summit (July 30-August 1) to learn about research-backed tools and resources for care and development from pregnancy to the first five years of your kid's life.