A parent's guide to developing independence

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It's time to leave and you are running late. So what happens when coats have to be put on? It may be quicker to do up the coat for your child rather than watching little fingers slowly tackling the task, but how important is it for children to do things for themselves and become independent? Why is independence important?

It's time to leave and you are running late. So what happens when coats have to be put on? It may be quicker to do up the coat for your child rather than watching little fingers slowly tackling the task, but how important is it for children to do things for themselves and become independent?

Why is independence important?

Independence is about learning to do things for oneself, which includes making decisions and taking on responsibility. These are hugely important skills for children to learn to cope with in adulthood. Helping children to become independent is seen as so important that it is a major focus of the Foundation Stage curriculum in England. This means that in your childcare setting there will be opportunities for them to develop independence.

Building confidence When independence grows a child's confidence also grows. As they master new skills or take on some responsibility, they begin to see themselves as being capable. This gives them added confidence and makes them more likely to try out new things.

Promoting physical development Learning life skills will also help your child's physical development, particularly their hand-eye co-ordination. Many everyday tasks, such as hanging up clothes, pouring out drinks and tidying away toys, all involve using physical co-ordination and make an excellent foundation for later skills such as handwriting and drawing.

How will my child learn to be independent?

Most early years practitioners help children learn the skills through some of their everyday routines. This means that your child might be encouraged to hang up their coat or pour a drink.

You may also notice that your child is given plenty of opportunities to choose what to play with, which allows them to explore and learn independently. These activities are sometimes known as 'child initiated', as they are designed to let children learn and do things for themselves.

What can I do for my child at home?

Home is an ideal place to practise becoming independent. Start by looking to see what your child can do already, and build on this. If your child can put their coat on, maybe they can have a go at doing up one of the buttons or pulling up the zip once you have started it off. Working alongside your child is often helpful so that they can learn skills by watching you. This does not have to be a formal lesson, as children often learn best by simply enjoying being with you and chatting. The kitchen can be a good place for this, as your child might want to choose and wash a few vegetables or get out some items from the fridge.

Allowing enough time Children do need extra time to manage even simple tasks, but gradually, they will speed up and become capable. It is worth ignoring the temptation to immediately take over a task if a child is struggling. Sometimes a little more time or a few words of encouragement are all your child needs.

Helping your child to make choices Life is full of choices, and learning how to make good decisions is crucial. You can help your child by giving simple choices early on. You might ask them which game they would like to play or which friend they would like to invite over.

It is important to respect children's choices, even if you feel that what they have selected is odd! We all need to be careful not to put children into situations where a choice is offered, but then is disregarded. This has the potential not only to cause conflict, but also to undermine the child's confidence.

Questions such as 'What would you like to wear?' may give children the impression that anything goes, while in reality the choice is between two or three outfits. Outlining exactly what is on offer or giving the child some criteria to make the selection is a good strategy to adopt.

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