“The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility
and the wings of independence.”
-Dr. Maria Montessori
I love this sentiment. I know that providing opportunities for my toddler to develop independence is immensely important for building his sense of self-esteem, tolerance for frustration, perseverance, and so much more. After a year of quarantine, I also know my patience is thinner than ever. My tolerance for inconvenience and mess is tested each minute of the day and, if I’m being really honest, I’d rather just do everything myself. While this may seem “easier” at the moment, it doesn’t serve me, my son, or our family. I know I am infantilizing him and making more work for myself. It’s time to embrace the opportunity to nurture my threenager’s budding independence and ultimately get some more space for myself!
Here are some things I’m trying, to do just that:
Encouraging him to help me change
He’s my last baby and we both know it! He “wants to stay 3 forever,” “doesn’t want to get big,” “isn’t having a birthday this year.” I have been encouraging us both by saying things like “I’m sorry. I’ve been treating you like you are too little. I can see you are ready to do this by yourself!” I am trying to avoid saying “You aren’t a *baby* anymore” as this is a sensitive word for both of us.
Putting things in reach
My husband is a champion for setting up the physical environment to help both of our boys become more independent. He has moved all the cutlery, cups, and lunch boxes to low drawers that our son can access himself. There are step stools at each sink so he can wash his hands. There are extenders at every faucet and light switch.
Prioritizing purchases that are kid-friendly and break-resistant
The safer our house is for exploration and independence, the less often I have to say “No,” decreasing the power struggles between us. For example, we no longer use cups with lids. His dishes look just like ours but are not glass. He can practice fine motor and other skills to drink without spilling and l can enjoy my meal without fear that he’ll be cut when something breaks.
I recently got some advice from a professional organizer and made all of our toy storage bins clear, folded clothes in a way more useful to him, and labeled the house with pictures as he is learning to read. These things may seem like no-brainers but I’d never taken the time to do any of them and it’s made a big difference.
Allowing extra time
This is the one I struggle with the most! We all know it takes longer for our little ones to put on their own socks and shoes or to get themselves dressed, I am *trying* to allow extra time so that he can do these things themselves. I am resisting the urge to take over. Instead, I try to break down each step as he works through them and say things like “I’m here to help if you need me.”
Assigning age-appropriate tasks
I am fortunate that he mostly enjoys doing chores, especially together. He can put his dirty clothes in the hamper, help sort laundry, put away toys, and carry his dirty dishes to the counter.
Setting predictable routines
Just like me, when he can anticipate his day, he is better equipped to take on responsibilities. During quarantine, we have not really had a schedule. We have focused almost exclusively on routine or the sequence of events that occurs throughout the day. Even the act of going outside is a routine. It involves putting on a coat and shoes, packing a water bottle, and remembering his favorite toy.
Like any other change, this independence is not gained overnight. It’s built upon, slowly, day after day. In our house, we are starting with getting dressed and picking up after yourself. Once those things are mastered, we will move on to the next.
Perfect is the enemy of progress, after all!
Taking deep breaths
Encouraging independence has taken my son and me on parallel journeys. We both take deep breaths as we work through these growing pains, gaining patience with and respect for one another all along the way.
How do you encourage independence with your children? What works at your house?