fostering independence children

Ways of Fostering Healthy Independence in Children

July 11, 2023
Ways of Fostering Healthy Independence in Children

The concept of independence is a fascinating and nuanced one when it comes to children and their parents or other caregivers. All parents naturally want their kids to be free thinkers who are self-reliant and independent in healthy ways - but without risks of going overboard at the same time.

At First Steps Childcare & Preschool, we're here to help with all your child care needs for clients around Rose Park and SLC, with programs for children aged from infants or toddlers to preschool and even kindergarten age. Here are some important concepts that both parents and other caregivers (such as our staff) should be regularly considering when it comes to fostering healthy independence in young children during their development.

Offer Choices  - But Build Limits

In various areas of your child's life, you can foster their growing independence by offering simple choices and options where possible. For example, letting them choose between two healthy snack options, or what outfit to wear from a selection you provide. However, it's also important to establish clear boundaries and limits to avoid choices becoming overwhelming or unhealthy.

Let's say, for instance, you want to teach your child to start dressing themselves but know they still need guidance. You might lay out two outfit options for them to choose from, then praise them for their choice - while still double checking that what they've picked is suitable for the day's activities or weather. This helps them feel more independent and capable, but within appropriate limits.

Let Them Make Mistakes

While this may sound counterintuitive, allowing children to sometimes make mistakes in safe ways is how they truly learn and grow independent skills. As long as the potential mistakes are not dangerous or harmful, giving your child opportunities to problem-solve and then learn from slip-ups can build confidence and capability.

For example, if a child is learning to make a simple sandwich or pour a drink, they may make a mess at first. As long as you've set appropriate boundaries and are supervising, letting them work through and clean up the mistake helps them learn in a hands-on way, and feel the satisfaction of then mastering the skill.

Praise Effort, Not Just Outcomes

When children are learning new skills and taking steps towards independence, it's vital to praise the effort and process, not just the end results. This encourages them to value working towards goals and builds persistence, rather than fixating on perfection or specific outcomes. Whether they master something quickly or it takes time, acknowledging their effort and participation will support motivation and resilience.

As an example, if your child is drawing a picture but gets frustrated that it's not turning out how they envisioned, gently refocus them on the practice and time they're putting in, rather than judging the final product. Comments like "I see how hard you're working on this and practicing your drawing skills. That's great effort!" can go a long way.

Involve Them in Tasks and Small Decisions

Around the home, and even while out grocery shopping or running errands, look for opportunities to involve your child in regular tasks and small daily decisions. This helps them feel more independent and capable, while also teaching practical skills and responsibility. Age-appropriate chores or tasks, even if simple, show them their contributions matter. And letting them make minor choices, like what veggies to buy or what music to play in the car, gives them a sense of autonomy.

Leave Them Some Space

Children can't learn to become independent if they're never given any freedom or space. While always supervising and using your judgment, try to leave some room for your child to explore a bit on their own. Maybe let them play in the next room while you do chores nearby, or give them free time in the yard while you garden or read on the porch.

As they demonstrate responsibility, you can gradually increase their freedom and alone time. The goal is to nurture both connection and independence.

Limit Corrections to Only Necessary Areas

As a parent, it's natural that you will have to correct your child at times. But try to keep corrections focused only on safety issues or other important boundaries, rather than criticizing every small mistake. Constant criticism can undermine confidence and the motivation to try new things. If possible, frame corrections around the specific behavior or action, rather than a personal judgment. And be sure to also provide plenty of positive feedback when your child is making good choices and progress.

With the right balance of support and freedom, children can steadily gain skills and independence in a way that makes them feel capable and builds self-esteem. While it requires patience, the rewards of seeing them develop into responsible and self-motivated individuals make the effort worthwhile.

At First Steps Childcare & Preschool, we work with parents to find this balance and support children's growth towards independence at their own pace. Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns about your child's development, or about any of our child care programs for clients in SLC or Rose Park areas.

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