Independence: Finding the Courage to Let Go

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“These words reveal a child’s inner needs: “Help me to do it myself.”‘ | Dr. Maria Montessori

When babies are born they need their parents to do everything for them–dress them, feed them, change their diapers, rock them to sleep–you name it. Many parents continue to help dress and feed their children long after they become capable of doing it on their own. We understand…

It’s your way of showing love. 

While many of us recognize that it’s vitally important to support our child’s budding independence as it builds their self-confidence and sense of self-worth. However, some parents are still unsure how to channel their affection in a way that is beneficial for their child’s ever-changing development. Kristi explains, “I realized this with my own daughter the other day when something that happened completely blew my mind. I was busy in the kitchen making dinner and Stella (13 months) started crying and wanted my undivided attention. She was hanging on the refrigerator door, so I opened it and handed her a clementine to hold and to hopefully distract her for five minutes so I could finish up.  She happily took it and sat down at my feet. Some time went by and I thought to myself, she sure is quiet. I looked down to check on her and I couldn’t believe what I saw! She had started to peel the clementine herself! What a wonder! I helped her carry it to the coffee table to give her some more space and watched as she finished up peeling and happily ate the entire thing! I didn’t start the peel for her. I never showed her how to peel it. She must have just carefully observed me over time and decided to tried it on her own. I was utterly amazed, even as a trained Montessorian, and the look of pride on her face was priceless! This weekend, I’m planning to organize our kitchen to make some things more accessible to her. She must have just been hungry but didn’t have the words yet to tell me.”

clementine

The beauty of parenting is, if we learn to stand back and let go, we will witness this incredible development right before our very eyes. Just look at our friend, Aayansh (2 years) in the photo at the top of this post. He just learned how to do “the flip” to put on his coat independently. He smiled SO BIG and yelled, “I did it!” Now we are working with him to practice fine-motor skills like zippers and snaps. There are tons of ways for children to manage daily tasks on their own and you can look to your child’s teachers for tips and advice about how to assist them. It also helps if you are able to make some simple organizational changes in the preparation of your home to help support your child as they learn to be more autonomous. We also need to be mindful of our expectations for our young children. Here is some food for thought:

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Keep their things at their level. Children crave opportunities where they can be successful. Simple modifications to your home, such as hanging low hooks by the entry way, providing a basket or bin for their shoes, dedicating a low drawer or shelf in the kitchen for their dishes, utensils and favorite snacks, and setting up a water station are a great start and can really make a difference. Parents are always amazed at how children manage themselves while at school–well, that’s because everything is prepared with little humans in mind. You can easily create these experiences for your children at home too! You might find that giving them control of certain tasks lessens the opportunity for tantrums throughout the day and makes for happier children.

dressing

Facilitate dressing themselves. Low open shelves, low hanging racks, a mirror and a low chair, stool or bench with brush or comb can enable even 2- or 3-year-olds to begin to dress themselves independently. especially if you pre-select two simple choices for a younger child to choose from. Time and repetition is also crucial at this stage. It’s not a realistic expectation for children to be able to get ready and get out the door in the same amount of time that we are. Give your little one a half hour or more, depending on the child. You know him or her best and will know how much time they need. For older children who are purposefully dragging their feet, a sand timer works wonders!

Exercise patience. Repeat after us–There is no such thing as the RIGHT WAY. Trust us, your kids will be the ones to show you this time after time. Parents tend to do more for their children out of love, but also because they want it done on adult time or in a particular way. It is extraordinary when our child masters a task on their own and their pride-filled facial expression is all the reward we need. Who cares if their hat is on lopsided, or their shirt is on backwards, or their shoes are on the wrong feet? If it’s a bother to them, that’s a logical consequence. They will notice it and that is the perfect time to chime in–“Oh, do your feet feel strange? Let’s take a look at your shoes together. You worked so hard getting them on, but I think switching them will feel so much better. Let’s try again and I can help you if you need it.” The growth in self-confidence, the smile on their face and the pride in their accomplishments is so much better than a straight hat (or a tantrum because he or she wanted to do it themselves!). Putting trust in our children, respecting their ability, setting them up for success, giving them the time to practice and encouraging their effort and hard work is so important.

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Organize and simplify their play area. Quality over quantity goes a long way when it comes to toys. Fewer options, displayed on open shelves, are preferable over lots of toys in boxes and baskets that the children can’t see. It also helps when it’s time to clean up, since everything has a place. Young children are sensitive to order, which impacts the organization and development of the brain. Ikea and Target have great options for inexpensive open shelving, such as the Kallax  or Threshold series.

A little preparation goes a long way. As parents, we play a very important role as the “custodian” of the environment. Instead of acting directly on your child to control what he or she does, you have constant opportunities to act on your child’s surroundings, preparing your home with love and care so that they can find success within it. As a custodian, your job is to see your home as your child would see it. Notice which obstacles are stopping her from being independent: Does he need a stool to reach the bathroom faucet? Are her clothes easy to find? Is she able to serve herself water without having to ask for it? Then, make the little changes that will allow him or her to feel the thrill of success! If you have the time for a quick read, we highly recommend reading The World of the Child: A Fable for Parents by Aline D. Wolf. (It’s even available from our Lending Library!) It’s a wonderful reminder of trying to see the world through our tiny human’s eyes and remembering that they are facing challenges all day long while learning how to do, well, everything! Kristi says, “I find that it helps to have a mantra–whatever that means or whatever makes sense for you. I repeat to myself all day long, “she’s having a hard time, not giving ME a hard time.” It really puts things in perspective for me, and makes the inevitable tough moments a little easier for both of us because I’m able to respond rather than react.”

For further reading on how to organize spaces in your home and cultivate your child’s independence you can check out: