Promoting Independence in Children

Masterchef Junior is a fascinating show. It amazes me how capable those children ages 8-13 are at skillfully preparing a meal. This show has helped to show me that children are probably more capable than adults think they are.

In the past year as a counselor, I have seen a wide range of child clients with diverse backgrounds and presenting issues. However, within all of that variability, I’ve noticed a common area for which many caregivers have wanted extra support: teaching their child to be independent. Parents and caregivers should want to help their children, but at what point does it become too much?

Caregivers who do as much as they can for their children may be doing more harm than good. If kids do not learn life skills as they mature, then it will be more difficult for them to be independent as adults. One of the Rules of Thumb from Garry Landreth and Sue Bratton’s book, Child Parent Relationship Therapy, is “Never do for a child that which he can do for himself.” This means children should be as independent as they are capable. It is understandable that at the end of a long day, it might be easier to simply complete a task yourself rather than have a power struggle with your child or take the extra time to teach them. However, children need their caregivers to invest in them. Below are some great places to start.

Lev Vygotsky, a psychologist, described a technique called scaffolding which allows children to bridge the gap between what they can and cannot do. When teaching a new task, try the “I do, we do, you do” technique:

·       I do: Caregiver completes the task, explains the steps, and shows the child how.

·       We do: Caregiver assists the child in completing the task and provides support.

·       You do: Caregiver encourages the child to complete the task on their own, providing extra instruction only if necessary.

Another tool to use to promote independence in children is a visual schedule. This allows children to take responsibility to compete tasks in a timely manner. Understood.org provides some great examples of visual schedules to help get you started.

A third tool that you can use is an age-appropriate chore chart. Caregivers often report that they struggle to get their child to complete chores. Living Montessori Now provides multiple examples of age-appropriate chores. You can search through them to find one that fits your family.  When introducing new responsibilities to your child, help them feel like they are not being punished by explaining that everyone in the family works as a team to maintain the household.

It’s never too late to start teaching your child how to be more independent! If you would like guidance and support through this process, please contact us at 985-661-0560 or go to www.northshorefamilycounseling.com and we will happily schedule an appointment with you.

Stephanie Johnson