From when babies try to spoon-feed themselves, insist on taking off their diapers, or as toddlers demand to dress themselves or turn the faucet on at the sink; they've always been signs of them wanting to be independent.
So how do we do this as parents/guardians and help them become independent correctly and with the right things?
Simple acts like giving them age-appropriate chores, letting them think for themselves at times, and encouraging some personal and group projects can help gradually instill independence in children at a young age.
In this article, we'll be going through the various ways you can instill and encourage independence in children at different age ranges.
Let's get started.
How to Instill Independence in Children
Here are some of the tested and proven ways you can instill independence in children from a very young age;
1. Let Them Make Mistakes
In other words, Don't Do For Your Kids What They Can Do For Themselves.
Allowing children to make errors can help them learn how to achieve in life, despite what may first seem contradictory.
As soon as they make a mistake, reassure them that it's okay, and work with them to come up with ideas for how they may improve going forward.
Also, if necessary, come up with solutions for fixing the problem. You should accept mistakes as teaching experiences.
This mentality change might be applied to any kind of mistake, from little ones like deciding not to carry an umbrella when it's supposed to rain to more serious ones like failing an exam because they put off studying until the night before.
2. Offer them Choices and Freedom with Limits.
Children can be empowered, gain confidence in their ability to make decisions, and develop a feeling of responsibility by being given a certain amount of freedom and the ability to choose.
Allowing your kid to choose between wearing a red or blue shirt or allowing them to walk home from school with a buddy are two examples of how to do this.
Parents can show children that their preferences, ideas, goals, and needs are recognized and appreciated by giving them many opportunities to make their own choices (and learn from errors). The more experience youngsters have making decisions on their own, the better.
3. Give Them Some Space
Children need room to grow and learn. And if they never get the opportunity to be independent, they aren't likely to grow more independent.
Give your youngster lots of chances to explore without constant supervision to foster independence.
Allow them to play alone if they are in another room, or if you must check in, try to be discreet.
If the distance to your mailbox is safe, send them there to retrieve the mail.
4. Don't Over-Correcting
Avoid correcting your kid while attempting to achieve something on their own as much as you can.
For instance, if you ask your child to make their bed and it isn't perfect, resist the impulse to make the necessary corrections (I know, it's complicated!).
Remember that you're not aiming for perfection at all times. Allowing your child to handle the responsibilities is the aim.
They won't want to keep trying if they believe they are not up to your expectations every time they attempt.
5. Doing Household Chores
Your kid should be able to undertake age-appropriate household chores, from sweeping floors to washing dishes, depending on how reliable and concentrated they can be.
Even small kids can help in setting the table and organizing their rooms. Kids learn responsibility through chores, and they can grow more confident when they realize how important their job is to their family.
6. They can plan Menus and Shopping for Groceries.
Teaching your kid how to cook basic meals and feel at ease in the kitchen is one of the nicest things you can do for them.
Families can spend quality time together while shopping and cooking, which is a fantastic method to teach kids good eating habits.
When you and your children are engaged in routine activities like grocery shopping, cooking, or dining together, they often talk about themselves and what is going on in their lives.
7. Caring for Younger Siblings and Other Kids
One of the most effective methods to raise mature, responsible kids is to have them look after younger children.
It's likely that the finest babysitters in your area will be teens who are dependable, responsible, and compassionate.
Allowing your kids to care for their younger ones (with supervision where necessary) is an excellent way to instill independence.
Little kids naturally focus on their desires and needs in whatever they do. Children who provide a hand to others develop empathy, an important step toward becoming mature adults.
A further advantage of getting your children involved in volunteer work is that they will be less likely to become spoilt or have affluenza as adults and be more likely to be nice and sympathetic.
This is true whether they make sandwiches for low-income families at church or assist an elderly neighbor.
9. Keeping Track of Homework and Tests
Helping your first-grader arrange their assignments and develop the habit of noting when they need to prepare for testing is one thing.
It's quite another if a normally developing middle- or high-schooler requires assistance from their parents in managing their schoolwork.
Establishing strong work habits early can help your kid become self-reliant as they age and less dependent on you to remind them when and what to complete for school continuously.
10. Organizing Their Own Schedule
You can give your kids a calendar and encourage them to practice noting key occasions. As kids mature, they must remember things like doctor's visits, play dates, friend birthday celebrations, sports or recitals, and more.
When it comes to knowing what to do and where to be, independent children will rely on themselves rather than their parents.
11. Encourage Independent Thinking
Encourage your child to develop their ideas on everything, from current affairs to historical moments to fiction.
Discuss current events while having supper or driving. Encourage the kids to express their opinions to you about many topics.
By paying close attention to what they have to say, you let them know that you value and value their views, ideas, and thoughts.
12. Entertaining Themselves
Kids need to understand that not every minute of their life has to be occupied with organized activities. Children need to learn how to identify their interests and how to carve out time for them.
Just by scheduling daily time to read together, letting children work on their projects, or simply playing alone. At the same time, parents finish preparing supper and other similar strategies, parents may help their children become more independent.
Why Instill Independence in Children at a Young Age?
When you gradually work towards ensuring you instill independence in children at a young age, these things slowly begin to happen:
Building Essential Skills
Teaching kids to do things independently, like tying their shoes or making simple snacks, helps them gain essential life skills they'll use as they grow.
When children accomplish tasks independently, it boosts their self-esteem and makes them more self-assured.
Taking care of their belongings and contributing to household chores teaches kids about responsibility and being a team player.
When kids can make simple choices, it helps them learn to decide and take ownership of their actions.
Preparation for the Future
Instilling independence early on sets a strong foundation for future success, making kids more capable of handling challenges as they age.
Age Ranges of Kids and What They Can Do
Instilling independence in children at a young age means understanding what they can do at every age and stage.
Below is a list of the proper age ranges and some activities/tasks your kids can do independently.
Age 0 - 2
Here are some things toddlers aged 0 to 2 can start doing on their own;
- Feeding and Dressing Themselves: Letting them feed themselves and dress independently helps build self-sufficiency, skills, and confidence.
- Swim Lessons: As the AAP recommends, starting swim lessons at age one can reduce drowning risk (though it doesn't make them "drown-proof").
- Sign Language: Teaching basic signs like "eat," "more," and "milk" can boost confidence in both kids and caregivers and help non-verbal toddlers communicate their needs.
Age 2 - 4
Now, for kids aged 2 to 4, here are some things they can start doing independently;
- Simple Household Chores: Encourage them to help with tasks like sweeping, packing their backpack, feeding the dog, making the bed, and putting clothes in the laundry.
- Solo Playtime: Set up a safe play space, and most kids this age can entertain themselves for 30 to 45 minutes.
- "Reading" Time: Provide picture books for them to explore, and if they want to hear stories, consider using a Yoto player designed for kids.
- Choose Their Clothes: Most probably by now, they've always wanted to do this, so it's time to let them pick their outfits, as it surely gives them a sense of independence and choice.
- Balance Bike: At this age range, you can Introduce a balance bike for your kids, as this will allow them to practice balance and coordination.
Age 4 - 6
For kids aged 4 to 6, they are developing their gross motor skills and gaining confidence. Below are some things they can start doing on their own;
- Brush Their Teeth: By age 5 or 6, children can brush their teeth on their own with your supervision, especially in the morning.
- Use a Microwave with Supervision: Teaching kids to use the microwave reinforces number recognition and fosters a sense of independence.
- Ride a Two-Wheeler: Around age 5 or 6, kids can transition from a balance bike or one with training wheels to their first two-wheeler.
- Have Drop-Off Playdates: According to the AAP, kids this age are developmentally ready for drop-off play dates.
- Day Camp: This is the age when kids often start preschool or kindergarten, and it's a suitable time for day camp experiences.
Age 6 - 8
Kids aged 6 to 8 are now becoming more independent and capable and can do these things;
- Help Prepare Dinner: Children in this age range can use a peeler, break eggs, scoop avocados, snap green beans, shuck corn, and cut parsley or green onions with supervision.
- Take a Bath By Themselves: Most kids can bathe independently, but parents should stay within earshot and keep baths short to ensure safety.
- Tie Their Shoes (with supervision): By age 6 or 7, children typically have the fine motor skills to attempt shoe-tying.
- Use a Computer to Browse the Internet (with supervision): It's important to supervise children's internet use. You can use filtering devices or web filtering programs to control their online access and ensure age-appropriate content.
Age 8 - 10
Children in this age range can do these activities below;
- Sleepovers: Kids at this age can have sleepovers if they can sleep through the night and understand body boundaries
- Overnight Camp: If your child can shower independently, doesn't wet the bed, and is comfortable staying overnight elsewhere, they're likely ready for sleepaway camp.
- Walk to School: Elementary school-aged kids can walk to school on their own if it's a short, safe walk with crossing guards. Waiting until age 12 might be better in less safe areas or cities.
Ages 10 Upwards
Children in this age range can do these things below;
- Home Alone: Some states allow kids as young as 10 to be left at home for a short time, while others prefer waiting until age 12.
- Bike to School: Most kids in late elementary school can safely ride their bikes to school if the route is short and safe.
Ages 12 Upwards
Here are things children in this age range can do comfortably;
- Own a Cell Phone: Middle schoolers can have a monitored and filtered cell phone. Use a technology agreement with rules and employ apps like Screentime, Circle, or Securly for safety.
- Babysit Younger Children: The Red Cross recommends its babysitting course from age 11. By 12, they can babysit with adult supervision, and by 14, they can often babysit independently if mature and responsible.
- Be Dropped off in Public: Around age 13, kids can be dropped off in a safe public place with friends, provided they stay in a group and have discussed how to handle uncomfortable situations.
In this section, we'll be looking at some frequently asked questions about instilling independence in children at a young age.
Why is independence important for young children?
When children are taught to be independent, it helps them to learn important skills and become more confident and responsible.
When should children be taught independence?
It is always advisable to start teaching independence from a young age, like toddlers, and build on it as they grow over time.
What skills encourage a child's independence?
Simple skills like dressing themselves, making simple snacks, and cleaning up their toys encourage independence.
How independent should a 5-year-old be?
A 5-year-old can be independent by allowing them to dress, feed, and clean up themselves. However, they still need supervision and guidance.
So far, we've established that Instilling independence in children from a young age is very important as it benefits both them and their parents/guardians.
It is about allowing kids to make mistakes, offering choices, and granting them space to explore and learn new things/concepts as they grow.
You should avoid overcorrection by all means and introduce age-appropriate chores. From caring for siblings to volunteering as they help cultivate self-reliance.
Ultimately, the result is having children with essential life skills, boosted confidence, a sense of responsibility, and strong decision-making abilities.