Did you know that one day your child will grow up and do everything without your help? They will have to follow a schedule, pay bills on time, go to work, make appointments and let’s not even get into once they have kids of their own. Oh, you already knew this? Then why are you still dressing your 4 year old? Why does your 5 year old have no idea how to wash his hands himself or pour from the jug of milk at school? Stop!
OK… That may have been a little melodramatic, but seriously stop…
Independence is a learned skill that needs to be taught from parents. Do everything for your kids now and you will probably continue to have do everything for them as adults. Do you know those 30 somethings that still have Mom or Dad paying their bills for them on time, or scheduling appointments and more? I do. I would make a guess that these Moms didn’t allow their children to be as independent as they could.
Once your child gets to middle school they will have a schedule to follow for classes. My 14 year old uses an alarm clock and gets himself 100% ready in the morning without any help from yours truly. I know so many parents that complain about having to spend 30 minutes (or more) getting their teen out of bed. Not I. He had the same visual schedule that my 9 year old 3rd grader has. He knows exactly when it is time to go to bed and exactly what time he must get up.
What’s a visual schedule?
In OT, we often will give children visual schedules. This can be as simple as a recipe to make a PB&J or as complex as a daily routine that needs to be followed. You may think that little thought goes into creating such a thing, you are kind of right. A visual schedule is simply the list of tasks you need to do during that period of time or day.
Imagine you are going to an all day conference. At this conference, you will be told when it is time to go to each specific class within the conference. You don’t know how long each class will take or exactly where you will be going next. Now instead, imagine the same conference, but this time you are getting a complete course outline with a schedule of what time you are to go where and also, the exact duration of each class. Which example makes you feel the most comfortable? Fly by the seat of your pants conference or scheduled to a T conference. I would guess the scheduled conference.
School is structured
Everyday at school is scheduled and most teachers will have a daily visual schedule posted within their rooms to let kids know what’s happening that day. Such as what specials (gym, art, music) are coming up that day and what time. So kids have structure all day and then they come home. Have you ever heard your child’s teacher say “Joey is so well behaved at school, we have no issues at all!”, yet at home you feel like you are living with __________. A schedule and consistency are key.
This is a great thing to implement at home. A morning routine or an evening routine for your Kindergartner. How independent are they in the morning? Do you coach them every step of the way or are they independent? If you are coaching and reminding them constantly of each step in the morning, try making a visual schedule for them to follow. This will help make them more independent and make mornings a little easier.
My 3rd grader uses a simple visual schedule that I made out of construction paper. He uses clothespins (great fine motor and visual motor activity) to mark off the tasks as he completes them. Once his schedule is full of clothespins, he gets to play on his iPad until the bus comes.
If you are interested in visual schedules but do not have the time or desire to make your own, check out these from EDUcents. There are some awesome pre-made and customizable visual schedules from free and up.
Teach your child to be independent.
Teaching your child to be independent is such an important developmental skill. Independence teaches great social skills, problem-solving and confidence.Sometimes it is so hard to watch your child struggle. You want to help and always make that task easy. There are going to be things in life that aren’t easy (don’t we all know, right!), but we power through them and come out empowered and ready to take on the world!
During my parenting talks, I try to make parents laugh at their tendency to over-parent. I frantically rush around the stage snatching invisible items off the floor, doing an impression of a mother picking up her kids’ clothes while complaining, “My children are so sloppy! I don’t know why they never pick anything up.” by By Michael Thomspon, Ph.D. from Parents Magazine
This is example is so true. I have been known to do and say this exact thing.
Things your child can do today to increase their independence:
- Dress themselves including socks
- Pick out clothes for school
- Dial the numbers on a phone to call Grandpa or an Auntie
- Brush teeth (my dentist recommends independently once per day and assisted by parent once per day until age 12)
- Feed a family pet
- Prepare a snack (PB&J, lunch meat, bowl of cereal etc.)
- Throw dirty laundry in a basket or the washing machine
- Help load the dishwasher
- Clean up after play time or dinner
- Order dinner at a restaurant
Recently a parent called into the preschool classroom I was working in and said “Don’t mind Joey’s outfit, he picked out his own clothes and dressed himself this morning.”. Not only did we not mind Joey’s mismatched outfit, we also loved that this parent is teaching her child to be independent. Did his clothes match? No, but I am sure he was so proud that he picked out his clothes and dressed himself that morning. And honestly the kids and teachers do not judge what a child is wearing. Clean clothes is all that matters.
Your child may need to more help when first starting, but don’t give up. Take the time to teach each skill before expecting independence. Give her a boost of confidence, “I would dress you, but I know you can do it!”.
So why do you need to let your child be independent?
- Builds character and self-esteem
- Teaches problem-solving skills and time management
- Because we won’t be around forever
“It’s not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” Ann Landers
As parents, it’s difficult to watch our children go through something challenging. We want to fix everything and make their lives easier. Don’t lose sight that we are also our children’s teacher.
Please share some of the things you have a hard time not helping yout children with.[As I announced here, I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge and spending the month blogging about kids’ skills and development. The letter of the day is I… I is for Independence]