And Every Day is Independence Day...
Maria Montessori's rule of thumb is, "Never do for the child what he can do for himself." Her entire educational program is built around the idea that by building on kids' basic skills and giving them more and more to do, we build their power--their self-confidence, their self-control and their self efficacy.
I love the word self efficacy. It means a person's "confidence in the ability to exert control over one's own motivation, behavior, and social environment."
It is worth remembering that when we give kids positive control over their lives, they have much less need to gain negative control through whiny, bratty, out of control behavior.
Set Kids Up for Success with the Skills and Tools they Need
By asking kids to help--to labor--along side you, you will be giving them a sense of personal power. There are a lot of ways to do this with toddlers and preschoolers. I outline some here in my blog on making pancakes. My blog on Making the Bed is really about connecting with your children through daily activities, but it also demonstrates how a daily chore can increasingly be given over to the child. HOW TO GET THEM UP AND OUT THE DOOR ON THEIR OWN is a blog that also resonated with lots of parents. Another really great resource is Jeanne-Marie Paynel's videos on how to set up basic living skill development for your kids. Here, for example, is a demonstration of how to teach a small child to peel a hard-boiled egg and what competencies it will help develop.
For young children helping out means being a connected part of the family. It means stepping into their own power--not as dependents but as contributors. Many kids' first real phrase is along the lines of "Me do. No Mommy do. Me do."
Historically, children worked along side their parents, learning the tasks of home and hearth, field and barn from the moment they could toddle. Now they mostly spend the day separate from us. Depending on the preschool curriculum, your children may get opportunities to learn independence tasks at school, but it still mostly falls on us to structure home life in such a way that kids become increasingly independent.
Recommendations for Building Independence:
•Make a list of basic skills that kids need for daily tasks. This includes things like pouring and squeezing with control, spreading and cutting with a knife, snapping, buttoning and tying, stirring and mixing dry goods and wet goods without spilling.
•Look to where kids can practice these skills in their daily play--in the sandbox, with play doh, dressing and undressing stuffies, in the bathtub. Use whatever old bowls, spoons, pots, cups, etc. you have on hand. Be willing for things to get messy and be willing to sacrifice things like cups of rice, dried beans, expired pancake mix or baking soda to their exploration.
•Look to where kids can help you--sorting the laundry, fluffing the pillows, cutting something soft, brushing teeth
•Decide on one or two tasks you'd like to focus on. Make sure your kids have opportunities to practice these skills as part of their play. Then start practicing the daily living task on days when you have a little more time (like the weekends or a day you don't have an early meeting).
•When they are competent enough (not perfect), hand the task over to them as a daily responsibility. A two year old, for example, can put his dirty clothes in the hamper or hang them on a low hook. Yes, she will need lots of reminding, but eventually it will become habitual.
•As your kids become automatic with one task, start introducing the next one. The aim is to provide challenge without letting it get to the point of frustration.
Seeing Kids as Being in Progress While Keeping the Long Term Goals in Mind
Your long term goal is to have children going through their off to school and going to bed routines independently (which should free you up to go through yours!). Most children are capable of getting there eventually if you are persistent. It will take some longer to get the physical coordination they need; it will take some more reminders. Some kids will need visual reminders; others will respond to a timer being set to keep them on track. Many will just fall into the routine. The trick is to keep your long term expectations for independence high while keeping your day-to-day expectations realistic.
If you are struggling with getting your kids to do things on their own, I am always ready to help. Sign up HERE for a complimentary Labor Day Strategy Session.