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What is independence in children? How can I encourage my child to be independent?

It is human nature that we are curious and eager to learn from birth. When a toddler can crawl (or move around by himself / herself), to him / her, they see the world as one that revolves around them. This is a very visible trait that we can detect in toddlers. With a stronger body and more developed motor and cognitive skills, they sometimes fight with adults to get things done for and by themselves. Dr Maria Montessori said to never help a child do tasks if a child feels that he can succeed, and ‘help me to help myself’. It is especially important for young children to experience being independent. It helps them feel that we value them and know they are capable. When we trust them, they will learn to trust themselves, which helps them to reflect positive self- esteem and build their self-reliance.

Most of us may be aware that when children are not allowed to do things on their own, they may become angry or get violent at the ones who stop them. Some may even cry and throw tantrums. If children often experience such rejections, they may also develop feelings of neglect and may later an adopt an attitude of indifference towards things around them. However, when children are allowed to develop autonomy, their sense of self-efficacy will develop and hence further help them to feel motivated to challenge themselves.

When children reach 3 to 4 years old, their needs to socialize with others has become even more prominent. They are better at controlling their emotions and using words to express themselves precisely. As they develop, their unwillingness to cooperate and their rejection to follow instructions is more prominent and persistent should they be rejected often when they were younger. Children who are often encouraged to be independent in attempting to complete tasks on their own will grow into individuals that appreciate themselves as being separated from the adults. This will be evident when they turn 5 to 6 years old, the period where children start to establish their own identities, are keen to take up challenges and enjoy testing their limits.

It is therefore vital for parents to learn the needs and the social development stages of children at different ages. Children aged from 3 to 6 years old who are encouraged to be independent, will develop a strong sense of self-trust that they can tackle any barriers and conquer any difficulties. Moreover, they will grow into excellent communicators, profound thinkers, and resilient explorers in their later years of their lives.

Here are some practical tips that we would like to share. You may follow these tips at home to encourage the independence of your child.

1. Encourage your child to do certain age-appropriate household chores.

Children from 3 years old are very willing to extend help to their family in doing the household chores. Depending on their age, duties assigned to them should be age appropriate. For example, children can help to set up the table or tidy up the rooms. Taking care of the household chores give young children a sense of responsibility. Their self-confidence will increase as they see that their work makes a valuable contribution to their family.

2. Allow your child to help mind their siblings.

Minding younger children is one of the best ways to teach children how to be responsible. “Babysitting” can simply mean sitting beside the baby for a 3-year-old or reading a story to the baby for a 6-year-old child. Showing trust in children to attend to a younger child is a superb way to show children a sense of responsibility on top of being independent.

3. Have your child spend time with playmates without parents.

As children get older, parents should encourage children to invite their friends to come over to play. Encourage children to decide on the activities that they are going to do. Let them stay on at the parties and pick them up when the parties are about to end. Children experience being independent through these activities. They also learn about social skills, problem solving skills and to overcome their fear and shyness, especially when they are facing so many different people by themselves.

4. Find ways for your child to do things by themselves.

It is crucial for children to realize that they must find ways with things that interest them to occupy the free time that they have. Parents can demonstrate to children how to organize activities that fit into their free time. They can also do the activities together with the children for a start, especially when the child is very young (for example, 4 years old). Over time, children will acquire the skills and will be able to make choices according to their interest, mood, and the availability of materials.

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