June 29, 2023 — By Wendy Sachs
It’s an interesting thing with our kids- our job is to make ourselves obsolete. We want to raise children who are strong and independent. It’s our dream to send them off into the world to do great things.
What we often need to remind ourselves is that to do that, we must start now while they are young. Now while we just want to hold them and savor the small hands and that lovely feeling of being needed. Not to mention, the ability to do for them so that it is done right and fast.
So what is our role in this growth?
The building blocks of independence start in the earliest years. It starts as we teach the clean-up song and take our time letting them clean when they are just one. Having the patience to give our smallest kids agency is essential and it is not easy. Reminding ourselves to take a beat, to give them space, to slow down is where it starts.
You can give choices to your toddlers such as what clothes they wear, which way they will walk, what snack they will have. Sometimes it will be hard to let them choose. That is the work that we must do. Part of teaching independence is allowing the follow thru on the choice. Sometimes the most important thing we can do is to allow them to choose and get out of the way when that choice has a consequence.
Space to Explore
As our kids move into the preschool years, you will notice the kids start pushing the boundaries more and more, demanding independence in so many ways. Here we have wonderful opportunities to let our little ones stretch their wings. No parent has ever been happy to let little Sarah or Ben travel all day thru shops and appointments wearing a superman costume or bright red boots on a sunny day. But giving a child space to explore the consequences, good and bad, of decisions teaches them that it may be too cold for tights or that feet hurt at the end of a long walk in boots. One great technique to use is to allow for choices that are controlled. “I can’t let you wear those boots today because it isn’t safe where we are walking. But you could wear your crocs or your sneakers. You can choose.”
Allow for Helping
Part of being independent is learning to be a part of taking care of yourself and the family. Preschoolers gain a lot of confidence taking part in the work of the family. Preschoolers can help to set and clear the table, learn to dust, sweep or vacuum a floor and help with simple laundry chores. Incorporating these tasks into daily life and also modeling and highlighting the jobs others do to make it all work is important. Here often our biggest stumbling block is letting the work be less than perfect. Avoid pointing that out if possible and instead often to work alongside of them. “You did a lot, can I take a turn with the vacuum while you take a break?”
All of these little things, the choices we make as parents and nannies, seem insignificant in the larger scheme of things. Truly the little things here and there matter. Communicating to a child, right from birth, that they are capable, that they can make choices, that we believe in them, makes all the difference!