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Monday, February 9, 2009


As kids grow older, they become more capable and love to do things for themselves. It isn't always easy to give your children the freedom to do the things they want to do. For starters, they take much longer to do the simplest things. If we do it for them, it is certainly quicker. It's also difficult to accept that they can accomplish certain tasks without our help. We often want to jump in and assist them even before we give them the chance to discover how to work out their own problems. Here are a few tips for helping your children develop that much needed freedom.

1) Start early enough to allow time for them to dress themselves, put their own shoes on, or whatever tasks it is that they are capable of completing. If you allow extra time, you will both be less stressed over the entire process. You won't feel anxious about getting done and feel the need to jump in and do it for your little one.

2) Force your child to do the things that you know she's capable of doing. This is certainly not an easy accomplishment because nobody likes to see their child struggle. However, your child needs to learn that the struggle to accomplish something is part of what makes the final accomplish so sweet. If you know your child can put her own shirt on, then give her the shirt and walk away. Don't stay to supervise because that will just make the entire process more stressful. Tell her what you expect and give her the chance to make it happen. This is particularly true if you have a child with disabilities, as I discovered over the last few months. Making Kira do things for herself during the aftermath of her surgeries was horribly difficult for me, but she needed to figure out what she was capable of doing without me hovering and coddling her. If I had always done those little things for her then she would never have figured out how to manage on her own.

3) Give your child plenty of opportunities to succeed. It's important to build your child's confidence. To do this, you can give your child tasks that you know will be successful. This starts early in life, as soon as your child becomes mobile. When a child is still a baby, she can do simple tasks such as throwing her own diaper in the garbage or putting her toys in a box. An older child can help with more difficult tasks. For example, Kira (4 yrs old) helped me strip wallpaper from the bathroom wall this past week. She had a great deal of fun pulling the paper off the wall, and I got some much needed help in accomplishing a daunting task. She felt really great about helping me, and there was honestly no way she could mess up. She was guaranteed to succeed at that project.

4) Let them make mistakes. Watching your child make a mistake is not easy. It's necessary, though. You need to let them learn from their own mistakes. Avoid stepping in unless there is some chance of your child being seriously hurt. If she puts her shirt on backwards, just tell her and let her fix the problem. If she breaks the plate while she's taking it to the sink, help her clean it up (depending on the age of the child) and discuss what caused the plate to break. If she refuses to wear a coat out in cooler weather (not bitterly cold), let her learn the hard way that she will be uncomfortable in cool weather without a coat.

5) Give them choices. There are so many opportunities in our day to allow our children to make choices for themselves. Make use of those times to give your child a sense of control over her own life. Let her choose between two shirts to wear or two cups to drink out of. Let her choose which snack she wants. Keep the choices simple, only offering two or three options at a time, so that your child does not become overwhelmed. The more control you allow your child to have over her own life, the easier it will be for her to accept those decisions that she has no control over.

One last thing - be sure to tell your child how she makes you proud and how much you love her. When she does make mistakes, reassure her that everybody makes mistakes and you will love her no matter what. Let your child catch you bragging on her to others. It will make her feel good to know that you talk about her accomplishments even when you think she isn't listening.