DISCLAIMER: The environment should be SAFE, with no potential hazards or threats involved, parental discretion is advised while choosing the activities they want their children to do independently or with minimum support. Any independent activities SHOULD be done along with an attentive active adult present physically along with the child.
The first five years of a child are called foundation years for a reason. This is a crucial period in the child’s life when he can learn at a rapid pace than any other time in his life. Have you noticed the “Me do it” phase in the toddlers? Most children enter the “Me do it” phase between 18 and 36 months. At this early age, children are recognizing themselves as a separate people from their parents and are naturally inclined to explore the surroundings on their own.
We as parents tend to cater to the needs of our children, it is our way of showing our love and care. We wouldn’t want our babies to grow up so fast, but we know being self-reliant is something our kids would have to learn for them to be happy, confident, and resilient adults who will eventually contribute to society.
Learning to be independent is developmentally essential for children and here are the four most important reasons why should you foster it in the early years.
1 Physical Development:
While trying to do anything on their own children need to use their body in a much more complex way than just being at a receiving end of physical care. For e.g. Your toddler is physically much more active & engaged while self-feeding as opposed to being fed passively, while autotuned on a cartoon. When your toddler is trying to feed herself, she is working on it with both her motor skills gross and fine, her sensory skills are also at play. Everything right from her posture, eye-hand coordination, her grip on the food she would be completely engrossed in ...
- Looking – Bright colours of food on her plate.
- Smelling – The aroma of the food
- Feeling- Texture of the food
- Tasting- Tastes of the food
Another important skill your child would be practicing by this is mid-line crossing or bilateral integration skills. So, all five senses and motor skills are working together to have a fulfilling experience for your child. Now when you see it this way your child is at a complex job and learning so much while she enjoys a healthy bite. Now just imagine if this experience has been made passive for the child by simply denying letting her eat by herself for whatever reasons, you are denying her all of these wonderful first-hand experiences she'd have otherwise.
Along with having a holistic full body and mind experience, your child is gaining confidence in her abilities to work independently. Learning to read hunger signals, vocabulary around mealtime, and having an opportunity to observe while you eat along with her. So, by just letting your child do this task independently or with minimum support you are actually giving her the opportunity to hit very important milestones of physical development in the early years.
2 Emotional Development
Research has shown us that young children learn the best with a hands-on approach. Experiential learning works wonders at a young age. Do you remember the feeling you had, last time you were able to take up a challenge on your own? Children also feel the same sense of self-worth and a boost of self-esteem when they get to accomplish things on their own. When your 3 years old sorts the laundry with you or puts her toys away, refills his glass of water or water the plants, the child starts to feel that he can contribute, and thereby he is gaining a sense of belonging and confidence. They can learn many vital qualities like patience, empathy, respect, gratitude, just by practicing autonomy in their daily activities.
By attempting to do things on their own, kids have a chance at learning, to do things by themselves. However, during the process, if they fail, they will be faced with stress and you can use this opportunity to help them navigate negative emotions effectively. They learn to vent out when they can’t do it right. When your toddler tries and tries to put her shoes on by herself and fails, there is going to be some drama. But you can also use this opportunity to teach them to seek help when needed and be thankful for the same. So, you see it is a win-win situation either way.
3 Cognitive Development
Many renowned educationalists like Maria Montessori believed in having child centred, self-directional based, hands-on learning, and collaborative play. When children learn by trial and error, they are most likely to learn effectively. Along the way they learn that their actions are accountable to some consequences, so they learn cause-effect relationships. It teaches children self-discipline. It is the ultimate goal for every parent irrespective of their parenting style or disciplining methods. This teaches them to think about every step in their mind first, to have a plan before going at something.
These days Intellectual development is often mistakenly attributed to and thought to be achieved through fancy STEM toys or gadget-based games, but a fun fact is you can hone every skill needed for brain boosting simply by giving a chance to your child to do things for themselves and others.
Having said that giving them options to choose from is a way to go, by doing so you can also have control over the situation while the child learns decision making, problem solving, critical thinking, etc. For example – when you provide your child with two options for clothes to choose from, for what to wear that day.
You – Have a less messy closet 🙂
and Your child - is learning to understand his preferences, to decide for himself, reasoning his decision, building confidence, so on, and so forth.
Simple activities like putting the toys away or sorting the laundry can bring in the key skills like asking questions, visual discrimination, matching, comparing, sorting, and organizing, and so on.
4 Social development
Independence is an essential life skill and should be nurtured from the early years. It is important because it helps children to understand their self-worth and to be empathetic towards others. Most of the parents expect their child to have appropriate social skills, for them to be able to get along with different kinds of situations as well as people in the long run. So, children are prompted to say their "sorry & thank you”, forced to share their toys, or held back to understand turn taking. Now you see these social skills simply cannot be taught in isolation.
They are best learnt when embedded with day to day first-hand experiences. The most mundane things we do together as a family give them the opportunities where they can do things for themselves and for others on their own. This is when and where the child gets an opportunity to learn – sharing co-operating, listening, following directions, respecting personnel space, making eye contacts & using manners.
All of these crucial skills can be taught and developed while the child chooses his outfit, feeds himself, makes his bed, put on his shoes, put their toys away, set up the meal table, waters the plant, plays with the sibling, etc.
So, providing your children with a SAFE environment, positive encouragement, and age-appropriate opportunities to work independently or minimum support is what you can do as a parent to foster independence from an early age. This kind of independence will reflect in relation to their thinking as well as in their actions!