Developing kids' independence

Developing kids’ independence

If you listen to my kids I am the only parent in the world who makes them do tasks around the house or do things for themselves! Of course I am aware that this is not the case, but sometimes I wonder am I doing the right thing.

Our eldest child went to a Montessori preschool and I learnt a considerable amount from his lovely teacher. One of the first things she taught me was not to do for a child what they are capable of doing themselves. This meant he should carry his own bag to preschool, dress himself, blow his own nose etc.

It took me some time to really grasp this concept and sometimes I find I lag behind working out what they are really capable of. I will concede that having five kids has really helped this keep me going with this philosophy; I just don’t have the time to do so many of those things for each child. I think if I had more time, I could easily fall in the trap of doing it for them, to help them along. I know that I have in some ways done more for the youngest child as there has not been a baby after him needing my immediate attention.

But as I sit writing the start of this post at my daughter’s parent teacher interviews (between teacher appointments), the feedback I am receiving reminds me why supporting kids to be independent and teaching them skills to organise themselves is so important.

Our daughter is 10, she sets her alarm each school day to make sure she gets up in time to have a good breakfast, get herself ready for school and leaves the house by just after 7am. Depending on the day she will either walk or her dad will drive her to the train station and she will then catch two trains and walk a short distance to arrive at school.

She has never been late, her teachers say she arrives with a smile and well organised for her day. And she does all of this herself without prompting. I exercise in the morning, so am generally home for only a short time before she heads out the door. Her ability to organise herself didn’t happen just this year however. It has been a work in progress for the last 10 years. It has been about letting her do for herself what she can and then teaching her skills and creating frameworks or processes to assist her with other areas.

A number of her teachers remarked on her independence and quiet confidence and so I left the parent teacher interviews encouraged to keep going on my path of building the kids’ independence and teaching them skills so they can do things for themselves.

While they may not always see it this way, making them responsible for household tasks, teaching them life skills and expecting them to be self starters is the best thing I can do for them. Through these accomplishments their self confidence builds, they learn that it often takes more than one go at a new task to be able to do it well, they learn that they are competent and can contribute positively to the world around them. Below I have listed three key ways that we do that with our kids.

Teaching household tasks

our family contribution schedule - family chores.jpg

It is an ongoing teaching with the kids. Just recently we revised the tasks the kids did around the house. This family contribution schedule which you can read more about here allocates tasks based on age and skills. There are some jobs on the list, the kids would really not rather do, there are other jobs which they kids can’t wait to try out. But all of them help build their independence. Trying new tasks at home when they are supported also helps them to be more willing to try new things outside of the home.

Teaching kids to create their own routines

Since they have been preschoolers we have been creating visual prompts and schedules for the kids, so they can get themselves organised each day for school. The kids help me create their schedules and as they get older, they begin creating them on their own. You can read more about it here.

Our second son in year seven this year, has used these skills to set himself up a homework schedule so he can manage his new workload. Homework this year was a significant increase from last year and he had exams to study for as well.

There was a time at the beginning of the year  when he was a little overwhelmed by the workload coming in, so together we created a homework priority checklist that he could use to help him know what to work on and when.

Teaching life skills

Later this week on the blog I will be sharing how I have transitioned the kids from commercial breakfast cereal to a more whole food approach to breakfast. This has meant teaching them basic cooking skills, like making omelettes, frying bacon and eggs and making smoothies.

This has been a gradual approach as well. Over the years I have taught them skills like:

Of course the life skills they need are not just limited to the kitchen, it is also things like being able to vacuum, change linen and make beds, navigate their way around their local area, use the telephone, learn to negotiate, solve problems etc.

There are other skills that I need to work further on with some of the kids like:

  • using the washing machine
  • using the iron
  • cleaning the bathroom

And when my kids grumble about what I am teaching them or am asking them to do, I will remember this quote:

“In the end, it’s not what you do for your children…but what you’ve taught them to do for themselves.” – Ann Landers 

How do you develop independence in your kids?