Our eldest child went to a Montessori preschool and I learned such a lot from his lovely teacher. One of the first things she taught me was to foster independence. This meant not doing things for children that they are perfectly capable of doing themselves. When you’re in preschool, this means this like carrying your own bag, dressing yourself, blowing your nose and getting your own drink of water.
It took me some time to really grasp the concept, and sometimes I find it hard to know what my kids are genuinely capable of. Mind you, having five kids has really helped; I just don’t have the time to do everything for each child.
I think if I had more time, I could easily fall into the trap of doing things for the kids that they could be doing. I’d do it to help them out, but also, probably , to help me out too. Over the years, I know I’ve probably done more for my youngest child over the years, as there wasn’t a baby after him needing my immediate attention.
Supporting kids to be independent and teaching them skills to organise themselves is so important.
When our daughter was 10, she set her alarm each school day to make sure she got up in time to have a good breakfast, get herself ready for school and leave the house just after 7am. Depending on the day she would either walk or her dad would drive her to the train station. She would then catch two trains and walk a short distance to arrive at school.
She was never late, her teachers said she arrived with a smile and was always well organised for her day. My daughter did all of this herself without prompting. Her ability to organise herself didn’t happen overnight however. It was a work in progress since she was tiny.
While kids may not always see it this way, making them responsible for household tasks, teaching them life skills and expecting them to be self starters is the best thing we can do for them. Through these accomplishments their self-confidence builds. They learn that it often takes more than one go at a new task to be able to do it well.
Kids learn that they are competent and can contribute positively to the world around them.
Three key ways we foster independence in our kids
1. Teaching household tasks
This is an ongoing instruction for the kids. We regularly revise the tasks the kids do around the house. Our family contribution schedule (which you can read more about here) allocates tasks based on age and skills.
There are some jobs on the list the kids would rather not do, but there are other jobs the kids can’t wait to try out. All of the jobs help foster independence.
Trying new tasks at home when they are supported also helps children to be more willing to try new things outside of the home.
2. Teaching kids to create their own routines
To foster independence and help the kids get ready for school on their own, we have been using visual prompts and schedules since preschool. The kids help me create their schedules and as they grew older, they would create their own. You can read more about it here.
When he was in Year 7, our son used these skills to set himself up a homework schedule so he could manage his new high school workload. Homework was a significant increase from the year before and he had exams to study for as well.
There was a time at the beginning of the year when he was a little overwhelmed by the workload coming in. Together we created a homework priority checklist that he could use to help him know what to work on and when. This helped him keep on track.
3. Teaching life skills
Starting with breakfast, we taught our kids basic cooking skills, like making omelettes, frying bacon and eggs and making smoothies.
It was a gradual lesson from eating cereal to cooking their own breakfast. Over the years I have taught them skills like:
- making sandwiches
- making dinner
Of course the life skills they need are not just limited to the kitchen, other skills we work on include:
- using the washing machine
- using the iron
- cleaning the bathroom
- changing the beds
- navigating their way around our local area
- using the telephone, email and messaging
- learning to negotiate
- solving problems, etc.
And when my kids grumble about what I am teaching them or am asking them to do, I will remember this quote:
“In the end, it’s not what you do for your children… but what you’ve taught them to do for themselves.” – Ann Landers
How do you foster independence in your kids?