It can be difficult to think of your preschool child as an independent being. While they're not ready to branch out into the great big world all alone just yet, encouraging a sense of independence during their preschool years is important for the development of a healthy self-esteem, empathy for others, and the ability to solve problems. While the temptation to guide their every move so they don't get hurt can be compelling, now is the time to give them the skills they need to achieve great things on their own. Here are four ways to promote independence in your preschooler aside from education at a school like Advantage Learning Center.
Give them small chores
There's no reason why a 3- or 4-year old child can't do small chores around the house. This is a great way to shape their self-esteem and build their confidence at an early age. Focus on things they enjoy, that are safe for them, and that they can manage without constant supervision. For instance, if they like helping you in the kitchen, have them set the table while you're preparing the meal. Or give them a small basket and ask them to empty the clothes dryer. The important thing is to make it a real chore instead of something that's meant to keep them busy. In other words, don't have them sweep the kitchen floor right after you've mopped it. That way, they can actually see the difference they're making.
Be sure to thank and praise them for a job well done. It might seem like a minor detail to you, but to them, it's the accomplishment of a lifetime.
Avoid "fixing" their accomplishments
When you assign chores for your child, don't expect perfection. In other words, if they make the bed and leave the comforter crooked and the blankets a little wrinkled, don't go behind them to smooth things out. If they put the books back on the shelf upside-down during clean-up time, it's okay. Leave them. Preschool children are not going to do things perfectly, and recognizing their strengths at this age is more important than making sure the books are aligned properly.
This goes for things other than just chores, too. Encourage them to get dressed on their own, even if they pick clothes that don't match. Let them wash themselves in the bathtub, even if they don't scrub between each toe. You can start by showing them what to do on their favorite doll, but eventually, you need to pass them the washcloth and let them do on their own without correcting them when it's not done perfectly.
Let them solve their own problems
This doesn't mean you shouldn't help them deal with a child that's bullying them or overcome problems like learning how to read. But by allowing your preschooler to solve little problems and figure out simple things on their own, you're actually helping to shape their character in positive ways. Children gain valuable independence when they learn how to:
- work a puzzle
- put their shoes on
- open their toy box
- play a musical instrument
- squirt toothpaste on a toothbrush
- pour a bowl of cereal
- put on a shirt or jacket
If you see them getting frustrated, you can ask if they would like help. But the goal is to get them to think on their own and give them a chance to solve the problem.
If they're struggling with a social issue at school, always start off by asking them how they think the problem should be solved. This also gives them a chance to work through the issue in their head, and their solution could be the best one. When necessary, solve the problem together, and let your child know that they have great ideas.
Stick to a routine
Having some consistency in your day-to-day works great for fostering a sense of independence. Your routine may look something like this:
- Get up
- Eat breakfast
- Brush teeth
- Get dressed
- Eat dinner
- Clean room
- TV for 30 minutes
- PJs on
- Brush teeth
- Story time
When your schedule is essentially the same every day, your child knows what to expect. This gives them not only a sense of security, but it also paves the way for them to do these things on their own. If they never know what's happening when, they will probably keep looking to you for guidance and instruction.