Independence is one of the most crucial life skill for any child. Parents and educators must strive to make sure independence is fostered in home and school environments. Dr Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori method, believed that every child is born with the potential for independence. However the child’s urge for independence is often hampered by parents’ need to get things done on time. I used to be guilty of doing things for my son, so that we could leave the house by 9 am sharp.
Encouraging independence in children can be quite tiring and challenging especially in case of toddlers. It requires lot of patience and respect for the child. According to Dr Maria Montessori’s observations, toddlers have a natural instinct to repeat activities till perfection is achieved. This means a whole lot of patience is needed by the parent, who needs to wait 20 minutes till the child can finish putting on one shoe! But trust me, its all worth it, because as the child starts doing things on his own, he develops confidence and self respect. And it also means that you will have to do much less work.
Here are four simple ways you can make your toddler more independent–
- Involve the child in daily tasks: Children, especially toddlers love to imitate the adults going about their daily chores. They are naturally attracted to tasks like cleaning, sweeping or any tasks which involve water. You can involve the child while preparing dinner. For example: you can ask your child to help peel the potatoes or shell peas. This activity helps the child to develop concentration, co-ordination of movement and of course independence. Here is a list of age appropriate chores. You can also check out this article by Ryan Howard of Smart Parent Advice . It talks about the benefits of assigning chores to your children.
- Take time to teach: Take time to teach the tasks to your child. The activity should be broken down into 2 or 3 steps and shown to the child. In Montessori method, this is called a presentation. The child is shown, without talking, a series of slow movements and purposeful actions. The reason language is not giving during presentation is because, when the adult speaks the toddler will concentrate more on the lip movements trying to grasp the words rather than focus on the activity.
- Give them narrow choices: One time I asked my son what he wants for dinner. He said, “No, I don’t want dinner.” For toddlers, providing open ended questions is too much choice for their brains to make a decision. Giving narrow choices helps the child to evaluate the options and make a decision. You can start by giving 2 choices for example: “Do you want to wear the red shirt or green shirt?” Making a decision helps the child to be in control of the situation, making him more confident.
- Hold back any unnecessary help: Dr Maria Montessori believed any unnecessary help given is basically hindering the development of the child. She said “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed”. I know as good intentioned parents we want to “help” our children, but help is actually not good. This one is the hardest to implement as we all are pressed for time and want things done. My suggestion is give 15 minutes as buffer time for any activity with your child. This way at least you won’t be very late for work, just a little late 🙂