Parents often ask how they can help their young children gain more independence at home. Setting up the environment and providing appropriate support are vital to their success at achieving independence.
Here are three easy ways to set up an environment that promotes independence:
- Bring things down to your child’s level
Offering a step stool to help a child be more independent can be useful in some cases, but bringing the work to the child’s height can actually be safer and even more beneficial. For example, instead of a bathroom step stool, offer your child a small table with a mirror and toiletries to allow them to complete more of their hygiene tasks themselves. Provide a small pitcher of water and cup to wet their toothbrush, and practice rinsing.
In the kitchen, a child-sized table can be especially helpful as a child is learning how to do tasks like snack preparation, cutting work, and cleaning up a space. By being able to see and reach the entire space, the child is less likely to fall and injure himself while trying to balance on a stool or chair.
Toy bins and shelves should always be below a child’s shoulder height, to facilitate him being able to get things out and put them away himself. This can also help prevent multiple bins being dumped out in order to “see what’s there.”
- Use pictures and words
When a child is still an emerging reader, we recommend labeling household items to encourage reading. If a child is still in the early stages of reading, it can be helpful to include pictures to support independence.
- By having labels with a picture, children can return toys to the appropriate bin and household items or clothing to the correct shelf or drawer.
- Marking a placemat with locations for the fork, plate, spoon and knife can help a child set the table for the family.
- Providing a morning and evening routine chart with pictures and steps can help a child get ready on their own.
- Keep it simple
Children can easily become overwhelmed with tasks like cleaning a room or getting dressed if there are too many steps or choices involved. A child will be much more successful picking up 10 items than trying to pick up 25, and having only 4 shirts to choose from instead of 10 makes getting dressed much easier. Taking items out of circulation for periods of time can also reduce overstimulation as well as encourage self-help.
Providing straightforward chores for young children allows them to be more helpful within the household. Tasks such as putting napkins in the hamper after dinner, matching socks from the dryer, or pouring food for a pet gives them concrete tasks in which they can succeed.
When you encourage a child to do tasks for themselves, you help them realize all they’re fully capable of, and instill self-confidence.