When I visited nearby preschools, I noticed amazing self-sufficiency among the children and admittedly felt guilty that I hadn’t been encouraging more of it with my two-year-old. Granted, some of those kids were older than him, but even that gave me a few ideas on what to expect from him in a few years.
Sometimes it’s easy to assume that kids still need our help; when we’ve always spoon-fed their food, we only have a general timeline and our kids’ cues to let us know when they’re ready to hold their own utensils. And considering that we sometimes jump in instead of letting them struggle, it’s no wonder that we can forget to encourage self-sufficiency.
Since I believe that our number one job as parents is to raise future adults, I was even more inspired to instill a sense of self-sufficiency in my son.
Some of the ways I’ve encouraged more independence—both recently and in months past—include:
- Independent eating. My kiddo didn’t grow his first tooth until a week after his first birthday, so understandably, I mashed and diced his food for quite some time. Still, I realized that I could probably step back (and accept a bit more mess!) by letting him feed himself. From finger foods to holding his own utensils to drinking from a regular cup, my toddler now eats pretty close to how we do. The same goes for dicing his food. If I could help it, I’d rather he learn how to eat the food the way adults do, whether it’s holding a hamburger (instead of cutting it up into pieces) or scooping his raisin bran cereal.
- Washing his own hands. For the longest time, my husband and I would clean my toddler’s hands for him, but after realizing that he’ll only learn how to wash his own hands if he actually gets to wash them, we began showing him how. We started off by teaching him how to push the pump on the soap bottle, rubbing them together under running water for a few seconds, sud-sing them up to make bubbles before finally rinsing them off in running water again. He also follows up by drying his own hands with a towel.
- Brushing his teeth. When we first started brushing his teeth at barely one-year-old, our toddler clearly needed to rely on us to keep his teeth clean. Sure, we would hand him his brush to get him used to the idea of brushing his teeth, but he sort of just let it hang from his mouth with a few strokes here and there—not exactly the most proper way. Now, after “Mama’s turn” at brushing his teeth, I hand the brush over to him and say, “Okay, brush the bottom right… Now the bottom middle…” and so forth. I was pleasantly surprised that he more or less knew how to brush his teeth!
- Scrubbing himself in the bath. This one actually started because he was so ticklish in the bath tub that we had to hand the washcloth over to him and tell him where to scrub. We still scrub him all over but hand him the washcloth afterwards so that he has a turn.
- Pulling his bottoms off and on. We’ve been slow on the potty-training program, but one of the tips I’ve heard is to make sure that your kid knows how to pull his bottoms off and on. Again, when I heard this, I realized that we’ve always pulled his bottoms off and on for him. Now, as much as possible, we try to get him to pull them off and on by himself or at least help us do so (and this is why I heart elastic, no-button-or-zipper pants).
- Helping with chores. I’m a fan of including children with chores at an early age. Whether the chore is something as simple as, “Can you put your bib on the dining table?” or more hands-on as helping us wash his little table, getting him involved helps him become more self-sufficient with picking up after himself and contributing to the household.
Some of these may have been a no-brainer for you, but being a first-time mom, having only one child, and not hanging around other kids his age all too often makes it somewhat easy to forget that my baby is growing up—and perhaps isn’t such a little baby anymore.
What ways do you encourage self-sufficiency in your kids? Which activities were you surprised to realize that your kids had caught on rather quickly? How do you gauge when your kids are ready to be more independent?