As young children grow and learn, they develop their own personalities and have thoughts, feelings, and opinions about their world. With this budding awareness, they seek to have a role in their day-to-day experiences and activities. As they mature and develop, so do their skills and capabilities. Because of this, they are increasingly able to participate more independently in everyday routines.
Why is independence important for young children?
Building age-appropriate independence while young is vital to a child’s healthy social emotional development. When a child realizes that they have agency, it opens up pathways for learning and growth. They realize they can make choices. They get in the habit of analyzing situations and understand that they can solve problems. They recognize that they can help themselves and others and are able to feel good about these contributions. And they come to know that they have the power to explore curiosities, learn what they enjoy, and, overall, be an active participant in their world.
Many of the structures and routines in place in daycares and schools naturally encourage independence. At home, there are many things families can do to foster and support this growth of independence.
How do daycares and schools build independence?
Schools and daycares, like those featured on PreK.com, embed independence-building activities and expectations throughout their days. They offer choice to students when they let them choose their morning activity or where to sit during circle time. They invite them to contribute to the learning community when they encourage students to clean up their toys or ask for their help with various classroom jobs such as turning off lights or watering plants. They also foster self-sufficiency, even with the youngest of learners, as they encourage them to prepare their space for naptime or pack up their backpack at the end of the day. The classroom experience is further supportive of this development as children learn from and alongside their classmates who are also working to build these same skills.
How can families foster independence at home?
As children approach their second birthday, you might notice them striving to do more and more on their own. Use the tips below to encourage independence at home:
Offer Simple Choices: Giving your child simple choices with two or three options during routine activities helps them to develop their independent decision-making skills. You might ask your child to choose a shirt from two that you have selected. You might invite them to pick out a favorite fruit at the grocery store. Even if your child cannot yet verbalize the choice, they can use pointing and gestures to express their opinion.
Respect Decisions: When you offer these choices, include two or more acceptable options and then be sure to respect their choice. Your child’s choices might not always be in line with your vision, but respecting their decision reinforces their independence.
Involve in Household Tasks: Include your young child in age-appropriate activities and chores. A two-year-old can help pick up their toys off of the floor and place them in a bin. A three-year-old can get their shoes and jacket from an accessible location. A four-year-old can help set a table. A five-year-old can help make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Prepare an Environment for Independence: Structure your home environment in a way that allows your child to do more things on their own. You might have a step stool by the sink so that they are able to wash their hands without assistance. You might put their toys in small bins in a reachable location so they can access them when they want to play and clean up afterwards. Also, having healthy, kid-appropriate snacks in reachable locations allows your child to help themselves.
Encourage Problem-Solving: Becoming independent is a learning process. As your child becomes more and more independent, they will encounter frustrations and challenges as they try new tasks. Encourage their persistence and celebrate their effort.
Worth the Mess
Letting your child practice independence is not always easy in the moment. It regularly includes some challenges and frustrations. It can slow down tasks and routines. And it is often messy. But, it is worth the effort. Fostering independence while your children are young leads to more self-sufficient, confident, and resilient children. It also leads to a more collaborative family environment where each member shares in the responsibilities, participates in some decision-making, and enjoys the resulting experiences.