Raising an Independent Child (0-36 months)
Parents natural instinct is to do everything for their children. But is that really whats best for our loved ones? In this guide we summarized some great opportunities and actions we can take as parents to encourage our children’s independence. Download guide here.
How to Raise An Independent Child In a Nutshell
Give them the right kind of attention. In these early days, they should be getting sessions of undivided attention several times a day. It can be as easy as tickling their belly, talking to them, singing to them, or teaching them games like Peek-A-Boo. If you completely spoil them for these concentrated periods throughout the day, they’ll be much more willing to play alone when you’re away from them.
Don’t worry about spoiling babies at this stage. For the first few months, you really can’t spoil the baby enough. Just be sure to recognize if they’ve had too much playtime. Some common signals of this are when they tense up, avoid your eye contact, if their eyes start to close, or if they start acting irritable.
Teach your baby to feed him/herself. Between 7-9 months babies can grip things with their index fingers and thumbs. This is a wonderful time to let them hold on to the spoon (even though you’re still in control) while you feed them. Although it can definitely get messy, this also works well with cups and bottles and you can gradually start to give them more and more control as they get older.
Finger Skills. Small toys and even crayons can be introduced around 9 months to help them master the use of their fingers. Remember it’s alright to let your child use their fingers and get messy once in a while. Also, the use of spoons and cups can be an awesome learning tool. Let them have the excitement of a new skill while using practical life tools as opposed to only toys designed for babies.
More Games. Games like Hide and Seek around the living room furniture or Peek-A-Boo help teach babies to remember your face and not worry if they don’t see you. It’s also crucial that you keep talking to them and teaching them words as they’ll start imitating you and speaking on their own toward the end of this stage (9-12 months).
Playing Alone. By the time babies reach 13 months, they can start playing alone. Just make sure to clear the room of any potentially dangerous items. If they grow irritated or start to cry, it can be helpful to talk to them from the other room, “I’m coming!” and to maintain this dialogue rather than running in immediately. This way they still trust that you’ll come back to them but they aren’t spoiled. Remember, it’s all about gradually separating. Try not to run over every time they fall though. As long as they aren't hurt, let them learn that they can fall and be OK by letting them stand back up on their own. Praise them for that also! Then they will learn you trust them and that they are capable of helping themselves.
Verbal Skills. At 18 months, you can begin engaging your toddler in conversations. Even if the response you get is a lot of mumbling, it’s important to foster your toddler’s verbal skills by connecting emotions to words, asking their opinion, and answering the questions they have about the world around them. Asking questions gives them confidence in their own ability to communicate. It’s important not to yell at them or respond negatively if they use words incorrectly. Simply rephrase what they’ve said in the right way. This is a great time to start giving them options, too. Even if it’s as small as the choice between the teddy bear or the crayons, options help your baby feel a sense of independence.
Trying New Things. Encouraging your toddler to try new things is always positive--as long as you’ve made certain that their choices won’t endanger themselves or others around them. Allowing toddlers to engage in independent activities--such as brushing their own teeth with a baby brush and drawing or painting--can instill a sense of confidence and curiosity. Let your toddler play around (under supervision, of course) and get dirty! A little dirt is worth it when it comes to inspiring a feeling of independence at an early age.
Making Decisions. At this age, independence can be encouraged in small ways throughout the day. By allowing your child to have autonomy within their daily routine, you can get them ready for the bigger decisions that will follow. Towards 18 months, you can allow your toddler to choose between different clothing options. If you begin by giving them the choice between two different pairs of pants or shirts, you’ll be able to see their sense of style quickly develop over time. Encouraging your child to eat on their own is helpful--if they make a mess, you can use it as an opportunity to show them how you clean up. Giving them the option of foods to choose from is a great way to start a conversation about what kinds of foods they prefer to eat, and why.
Playing with Other Kids. By the time kids reach the age of two, their imaginations are running wild. Playing make-believe will be a favorite during these pivotal months. This is a perfect time for them to make friends and learn from others. It’s important to encourage independent playtime at this stage and to teach them how to do things on their own but also encourage interdependent playtime. The best way to teach this is by teaching them to share and take turns. Eventually, they’ll learn: “I can do it myself, but I can do it better with help.”
Playing Alone. At home, two-year-olds can draw by themselves, play make-believe, or play simple puzzles. The secret is to engage them every few minutes with eye contact or even a smile.
Potty Training. Some three-year-olds will ask to use the potty, some will not, but it’s a good time to teach them how. Look for signs of readiness early. They will take off their dirty diaper or say they need to go. “Mastering this concept of “potty learning” with your little one is a big accomplishment”, Says Dr. Laura Jana - pediatric, parenting and early childhood expert. She offers some good strategies and tips in an article on New Journal:
Stock up on practical supplies that foster your child’s interest and independence — from a potty seat or toilet ring and step stool to training pants that all help potty- training toddlers proudly set aside their diapers and make the diaper-to-underwear transition.
Also, you can teach your child early how to push down their pants to use the potty or their PJ’s or even simply how to run to the potty. One mom put a little trail of cut-out fish that led from her child’s bedroom to the potty and then told him, “You know how to go there. Where are the fishies?”
Beyond 36 Months
Feeding Themselves. By three, toddlers usually insist that they feed themselves. It’s your job to be sure that they’re eating healthy. Try substituting the jelly in a PB&J with apple slices or banana slices. Eating can be fun by using finger foods like baby carrots, grape tomatoes, and cucumber sticks.
Activities/ Sports, At this stage, kids can learn to play sports and group activities which will teach interdependent play and teamwork. But how do you foster and nurture this independence if s/he is afraid to jump in or even afraid to do poorly? “Instead of coaxing your kid to attempt a new sport or get on a bike, ask him to describe why he doesn't want to.” Listen without judging or trying to change his mind. Try saying ‘I see how scared you are. What do you think could happen?’ This validation will help him/her develop emotional awareness to make confident decisions. This paves the way to a more independent, responsible, adventurous life.
Doing Chores. They should be able to set the dinner plates, but will still need help with the cutlery. At three they can also sort laundry from the wash, which can be fun and insightful for them.