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Me do it! Me do it!

I was in the supermarket the other day when I overheard a child say to her dad ‘Me do it, me do it, Daddy!’ as she tried to help him with the shopping. I smiled to myself as I remembered my eldest son saying the same to my mum when he was little and she was trying to put his coat on him.

These incidents illustrate how, from a young age, children want to be independent, yet, for some reason they are not given the opportunity to be independent. I am not only talking about being physically independent, for example children being able to dress themselves, but more importantly having an independence of mind to make decisions. By this I mean having a choice, even in something as simple as choosing which socks to wear or choosing between an apple or a banana.

Our job as parents is to give our children the tools and skills to become independent individuals. Children who are more independent are more confident and ready for everyday activities. We have to remember that we will not always be there to help our children with their day-to-day activities or be there to make decisions for them. Your child needs these skills when at Early Years/Care or school, with family or friends or even at a play date with one of their friends. Imagine how confident your child will feel if, when you are not there to assist them, they are able to do things for themselves without asking an adult for help.

With this in mind we have to make sure that the tasks we give our children are age, stage and ability appropriate. For example, we wouldn’t expect a one year old to put on their shoes. Children therefore need to be given a sense of purpose and be given age related tasks that promote self-help skills and their all-round development.

Activities that children can do to promote their autonomy:

  • Dressing themselves, including practising a range of fastenings: buttons, zips, clips, laces
  • Tidying up after themselves; children must know from an early age that if they take out their toys to play then they must tidy them away
  • Making their own bed, straightening the quilt and plumping up the pillows
  • Helping with cooking, basic chopping and stirring, gives children a sense of achievement if they have been part of making their own meal
  • Assisting with shopping; give your child the opportunity to collect items in the shop and to make suggestions for what you might need
  • Sorting their own laundry, for example matching different socks together.

There are times when our children feel that they can’t do something, for example putting on their shoes. As you know your child best, you will know when they are ready to try putting on their own shoes.

Here is the scenario:

Child: ‘I can’t put my shoes on!’

Parent: ‘Who told you that you can’t put your shoes on?’

Responding to your child with a simple question like this helps your child to think about the words that they are using. As a parent, avoid judgemental statements such as: ‘Putting shoes on is easy, you are three now and of course you can put shoes on – don’t be silly.’

It is helpful as a parent to be both a mirror and a role model to your child for what you want them to do. Show them how you put on your own shoes, using language to illustrate the process; for example, ‘Hold the back of the shoe, slide your foot in and sometimes it helps if you sit on your bottom.’

Timing is another issue, some parents say it is preferable to help their child to avoid being late. A solution to this, and to give your child the independence that they need, is to schedule an extra 10 minutes onto the time it takes to get ready. As a parent I found it helpful to give my sons notice when we were going out. For example, ‘We are leaving in 10 minutes; please can you get your coat and shoes on.’ I have also used an egg timer to give my children a sense of time, which also makes the process fun and enjoyable.

Opportunities for children to become creative thinkers by make their own decisions:

There are opportunities for making choices in a wide range of scenarios, from choosing books to read to asking their opinions on food.

Asking open-ended questions is important, for example ‘What do you think will happen tomorrow at school or at nursery?’. Asking children open-ended questions gives them the opportunity to construct more in-depth answers, rather than closed questions which do not help children to process their thoughts. For example, a closed question such as ‘Do you like school or nursery?’ invites a very limited response. However, open questions can really give your child the opportunity to think and to verbally express their ideas and thoughts.

In addition to asking your child questions, you need to give your child opportunities to answer their own questions, rather than answering for them.

Here is the scenario:

Child: ‘Why do I need my coat on?’

Parent: ‘That is an interesting question, why do you think you need your coat on?’

If children are able to think for themselves, you are giving them the skills to be confident, skilful and creative communicators in a wide range of situations.

A word of caution – I am not saying that children should be given a choice in everything that affects them, for example the time that they go to bed or a choice about going to school or not, as there are some situations for parents where diplomacy is not needed!

The key for parents is that your child needs to become self-sufficient, both physically and as an effective communicator, in our challenging world. 

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