Encouraging Independence

It feels amazing to have our children need us and there are times when we’d all love them to be little forever. However, as parents it’s our job to help them become independent and confident people who will make a positive contribution to society.

When they are small this seems a daunting prospect but it doesn’t have to be. Our children will always need us but the reasons change and the relationships grow.

All babies and children have a tendency to want to do things for themselves. This is the beginning of independence and, as a parent and as a nursery practitioner too, it is really important to encourage this. It will promote confidence and self-esteem as well as a feeling of belonging.

So how can you encourage independence?

• Praise effort – always offer praise for trying, and persevering rather than just for the results. This should help reduce frustration when they find something tricky and reduce the anxiety of failing and therefore not wanting to try something new or difficult. Encourage your children to try new things and to step out of their comfort zone without the pressure of always having to succeed.

• Allow them to choose – Every day we make choices for our children, one of the easiest ways of encouraging their independence is to give them choices. Simple choices between two things that are both acceptable to you is a very effective starting point. ‘Would you like Weetabix or porridge? Shall we play football or go to the swings?’

Allowing children to make simple choices gives them a feeling of control over their lives at a very basic level; but this leads to ownership of their choices and independent thinking in later years. It can also help reduce tantrums.

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• Include them in the family routine – allow your children to help with simple daily chores. They will feel as if they play an important role within the family; and you’ll soon find that they’ll want to help with even more tasks. Simple tasks such as putting the washing in the washing machine, passing you the pegs as you hang out the washing, helping to tidying away the toys at bedtime all encourage independence as well as building confidence and a sense of pride, satisfaction and achievement.

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• Support children to explore and take risks – when children are very young, we have to keep them close to protect them and keep them safe and to build a feeling of security. Once they have established a sense of security and understand their safe places and people, we have to allow them, and indeed encourage them, to explore and learn their own capabilities.

• Promote problem solving – Just like giving your children a choice, you can also give them the opportunity to come up with solutions to problems too. Try asking them “how?” questions such as “how can we clean up this mess we’ve made?” This is an easy way to foster independent thinking. As practitioners we try to use open questions when playing with children; these questions encourage thinking, exploring ideas, thoughts and feelings e.g. what do you think will happen if we……; how do you think she feels? How could we make our model stronger? What could we use to hold these boxes together? Etc

As children get older try to involve them in planning and rule making too. Not only will they be more willing to follow the rules, but it also ensures your plans and decisions reflect their needs and interests too.
It is an amazing feeling watching your children accomplish tasks for themselves. However, as much as independence is an important quality to nurture, it is important that parents remember that they are still young too. There will be times when children will need to be comforted, so be flexible and give them the type of support they need at that moment; but don’t be afraid to encourage independence, it won’t mean they need you any less. If you demonstrate love, respect and confidence in them they will have the freedom to make their own decisions and to take control of their own lives when the time comes, but safe in the knowledge that they can turn to you for support.