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Helping Your Child Become More Independent

Many parents have asked me why their child can do some independent tasks at school but are unable to do them at home. How many parents have heard their child’s teacher say, “Oh, he has become so independent. He can put on his shoes and a t-shirt himself, as well as use a fork and spoon to feed himself.” At the same time, you wonder to yourself if this is indeed the same child you are talking about. Why doesn’t he do this at home? Is the teacher being overly kind about my child’s abilities?

Having worked with young children and their parents for more than 27 years, it is still as hard now as it was in the beginning to hear parents doubt their own abilities or feel that they are doing something wrong. It is the parents who ask themselves, “Am I doing it right?” or “What am I doing wrong?” who are often the parents that are doing everything possible to help their child.

Below are some ideas that can help your child develop their independence skills.

Be confident about goodbyes: Your departure or separation is hard on your toddler, but if you act as if it is no big deal and you know you will be back soon, you will help calm her fears. Phrase your goodbye in a sympathetic but matter-of-fact manner. It is my experience that most children do settle after only a few minutes when they play with their friends in the classroom or playground.

Let them eat by themselves: As soon as your child can pick up tiny objects with her finger and thumb (around 6-9 months), let her feed herself with tiny sandwiches, little bits of banana, cooked carrot, grated apple, etc. Often putting the food on the spoon is the easy part for children, but the balancing act of getting the spoon to their mouth is difficult and messy, and can take a while to master. In my experience, once a child is able to spoon up their food then it only takes a couple of weeks before they are well on their way to eating independently. By two years old, your child should be able to feed herself with a plastic fork and spoon, but will still need her food cut up for her.

Help them get started: There are some things you can do to make gaining independence easier, such as laying clothing out in advance so that your child can start to dress by him or herself in the morning; and finding clothing, especially footwear, that’s easier for little hands to manage. For example, when children sit down, they automatically sit with their knees pointing outwards, therefore a shoe with a side fastener is further away from them. This is often one reason why children put their shoes on the wrong feet because the side fastener is further away. Using central fasteners or helping your child to bend their knees inwards will help teach them the correct way to put on shoes. Also, if you can find socks that do not have heels, this makes it much easier for your child to put socks on by themselves.  Finally, don’t put too much in your child’s bag. This way, they can start to carry it safely by themselves (and you can carry the rest of their things for them). Every child loves to feel they are just like mummy or daddy with their own bag!

Get nannies to help: Having a nanny is more common in Thailand than in other countries. Many children have nannies that give them so much care and attention. We have all seen times, however, when the nanny will put shoes on a 5-year old, or run around after a child with a bowl and spoon in hand trying to feed them whilst the children are playing. When I first came to work in private, international schools, I was surprised to see this and also had a compounding feeling of “Why?” Nannies are a great asset to many, allowing parents to go back to work or have some well-deserved downtime. However, please help your nanny to enforce the independence skills you have taught, and not do things for your child all the time.

Be patient: It may seem that it is always easier to put your child’s shoes on for them or wash their hands for them to make sure that they are clean. Time is such a valuable commodity and as a parent, it must feel that doing these for your child will be faster and easier than having to wait for them, especially when you are rushing out to school or work. However, showing your child what to do and allowing them the responsibility to help themselves will eventually make it easier for you and, at the same time, allow your child that feeling of accomplishment.

In my experience of working in early years, kindergartens and primary schools, I feel that we should never underestimate a child’s ability. It is by nurturing children within the right environment, using the correct resources to show them how to develop, and taking the time with them that we will truly see how quickly and brilliantly our children can develop their skills.

By Michael Gallagher, School Director & Co-Founder, Bernie British International Kindergarten & Early Years. For more information, please visit www.bernie-bipc.co.th.

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