Last month I put forth a challenge to focus on examining the relationship between connection and separateness. I find this to be a constant challenge of parenting. Because our children are constantly growing, we continually support their growing and developing independence while honoring who they are becoming.
If we ask most parents of college aged students today, they may share with us an all too apparent truth that independence doesn't just happen. It is a process and it should begin in the first years of life. Even in infancy, we can support our children's awareness of self care by creating routines for dressing, washing, toileting, changing and feeding so she can begin to learn what is coming next. When she is ready, she can participate rather than constantly orienting to new routines. An infant to collaborate when ready if we prompt, "Pull!" while guiding a tiny hand through a shirt sleeve.
Once a child is walking, his hands are free to work and he is ready to begin participating in his own care. Allowing a child to care for himself is a wonderful gift and it does come at a cost to the parent. It requires a huge investment of time and patience and trust in the child, but it is a priceless gift. It can feel scary to give up the nurturing of caring for your child, but it begins just a little bit at a time and with great love.
Each week, spend some time focusing your attention on one goal at a time.
1. Observe your home and yourself to notice:
- How do I feel about my child's independence? How do I feel about allowing my child to feed, clean and dress himself? Do I have mixed feelings about my child becoming independent in caring for himself?
- Write down the tasks of self care that require adult assistance and evaluate how these tasks could be completed independently. If the toothpaste cannot be within reach can the toothbrush and hairbrush? Can your child get a drink of water without help? Can she prepare an afternoon snack without help?
This week create a dressing area for everyday clothing. Define a space in the closet with a low hanging bar, a low shelf, or even a child sized armoire.
Above is a beautiful example of a child's dressing area from thefreechild.blogspot.com.
To set up:
- Choose everyday clothing that your child
- can easily take on or off without help.
- is weather appropriate
- Provide as many of each item as your child's age. For example, you'll provide two socks, pants, shirts and underwear for a two year old and three for a three year old.
- Give a lesson on how to hang clothing saying, "This is how to hang a shirt. I'll have a turn then you can have a turn." Without talking, lay the shirt flat on the floor, lay the hanger at the bottom of the shirt, pause, place your hand at the neck of the shirt, pause, reach through the shirt to grab the hanger, pick the shirt and hanger off of the floor, then pull the shirt down over the hanger one side at a time.
- Give a lesson on how to fold clothing. However you present folding is great! Introduce the lesson, pause between movements, and don't speak while your hands are moving!
- Provide a laundry basket for dirty clothes
In one step you've provided your child with an opportunity to experience successfully choosing his own clothing, eliminated arguments about wearing weather appropriate clothing, and created a space that your child can manage without any help! While you'll need to manage the remaining wardrobe for your child for a while and swap out the clothing with your child when necessary, your child can independently put away his own clean laundry!
For children five and up, a travel sized iron and ironing board can be provided with a very careful presentation and supervision as you deem appropriate.
3. Set up a snack area and water source.
|Toddler Place Setting|
|Food Preparation Set Up|
- Clear out a low cabinet in the kitchen or provide a small shelf for your child's dishes. Provide a few small plates, utensils, glasses, napkins and placemat. Designate a place to put dirty items like a dish bin within reach.
- Give a lesson to show your child how to carry a plate or glass carefully.
- Brainstorm a way your child can access water without help. There will need to spill bucket (small bucket with a splash of water and tray with small sponge and designated cloth) for spills.
- Clear a shelf or place a tray on a low shelf of the refrigerator and a basket in the pantry.
- Place a daily snack option on the designated tray in the refrigerator or the basket in the pantry. Provide tools like apple slicer, vegetable knife (Montessori Services or For Small Hands is a great source) and egg slicer so your child can help prepare his own snack.
4. Splash in to Self Care!
- Is your child toileting? If not, now is the time to begin healthy toileting habits! If you need a resource on toileting, check out Diaper Free Before Three by Dr. Jill M. Lekovic.
- Ensure your child can reach the sink and toilet without help. Hang a low mirror on the door or wall, if possible.
- Give a lesson on how to squeeze just a little bit of toothpaste on the toothbrush! Place a toothbrush and hairbrush in a basket so your child can practice whenever he chooses in addition to daily routines. Young children may need help with toothpaste and toothbrushing, but it doesn't hurt to practice!
- Does your child have oral sensory seeking tendencies? An electric toothbrush can be a great way to provide oral stimulation that can curb behaviors like biting or mouthing objects.
- Examine bath time and note how much your child can do independently. It's a great bonding time with your young child, but it can be ok to just be with your child while he runs his own bath and cleans independently!
Congratulations on helping your child take huge steps towards his own independence!