Whether it’s walking up the stairs without holding someone’s hand, putting on (and selecting) her own clothes, or carrying the way-too-heavy grocery bags, my child has a case of the “no, I do-its.”
I’m so glad she’s excited about exploring her abilities and finds cleaning up her messes and putting her own clean and freshly folded laundry away. But that laundry ends up as a big clumpy pile in a corner of her room and the mess turns a bit messier from her cleaning efforts. While resisting my urge to do these things for my tot (and wondering why this “I Can Do It” attitude magically disappears on the potty-training front), I remembered an article I created for Funderstanding about self-reliant preschoolers.
I figured the article deserved a good reread, especially because we are heading back to preschool in a couple of weeks. And, if you’ve got a toddler at home returning or starting preschool for the first time, you might find these ideas and insights helpful, too!
As parents, we want to encourage our kids to think for themselves and make smart, positive decisions. But sometimes we get stuck on wanting things to be done to our own expectations and a helping hand is offered before the child can think or do something for themselves. And then there are those moments we become “helicopter parents,” where more time is spent focusing on directing the child’s behavior than nurturing it. The toddler’s developing brain is an amazing thing, and all these aspects play a role on how it advances.
Self-reliant behavior is the concept of encouraging one to feel confident, able to make decisions, and do things for themselves. Ralph Waldo Emerson spent some time contemplating the understanding of self and the importance of trusting one’s self-being. For parents of toddlers, this can be a challenging—especially when preparing for preschool. Taking the time to nurture the child’s growing abilities and interests can be overwhelming and exhausting. But it is an important step for creating self-reliance in toddlers and preparing them for what is to come in preschool.
Most preschoolers are expected to accomplish simple tasks throughout the day. From putting on their own jackets to knowing their numbers and letters, a preschooler is inherently interested and excited with new tasks and concepts. Sometimes the simplest mission an adult might take for granted, such as selecting a spot to sit for lunch, can be a big challenge to a child. As adults, offering children the opportunity to build their self-confidence and self-reliance makes those moments a bit easier for the child, and often with wonderful results.
Helping your toddler
Before heading to preschool, there are a few simple ways you can help your child build his self-reliance. Understand that this may be a frustrating time for everyone involved, but with some dedication, and a lot of patience, the outcomes speak loud and clear.
Encourage your child to do simple tasks on his own. As much as you might want to hurry things along and put those shoes on for your toddler, it is a good idea to let him do it himself—and the way he wants to. This means if he gets them on, but those shoes are on the wrong feet, do not correct him. While he is working through the task, offer lots of encouraging words as well as giving him some space. Instead of offering praise such as, “you are doing a good job,” use direct words such as, “I am pleased you are spending so much time concentrating.”
Let your child make decisions. This does not mean letting your child be the decision-maker on big things, but encourage him to pick out his own clothes in the morning (even if things do not match) or select dinner one night a week. When your child feels he makes decisions that are respected and taken seriously, he is building his self-confidence encouraging his self-reliance. As the child ages, he will continue making smart decisions, helping to build a well-rounded adult.
Stand back. When your child is about to take a risk, stand back and watch what happens. Obviously, if your child’s well-being is in danger, step in and redirect his behavior. But if he is making the decision to try his bike without training wheels, maybe it is time to see if he really can do it. Preschoolers are daredevils and learning every day what their bodies can and cannot do. By allowing your child to healthfully explore his abilities without hearing a constant, “NO,” he is learning you trust him and his decisions.
Give your preschooler responsibilities. Even young kids are capable of doing small tasks. Allow your child to be in charge of doing something he can do regularly, like wiping the table after the family meal. Kids like to feel they are contributing successfully to day-to-day living. His sense of accomplishment is his reward, and the more he understands this, the more smart decisions he will make, along with wanting to take on more responsibilities.
Be confident and model positive behavior. The first day of preschool is often hard on parent and child. Expect to endure separation anxiety at some point from your child. As an adult, model positive behavior and stay confident, even when feeling overwhelmed. Your child will be encouraged to do the same. Talk through concerns with your child before the first day, including time for your child to share his worries, thoughts, and questions. By answering his concerns and talking out all his reservations, he is learning his thoughts are respected and heard, building his own self-confidence and understanding of what the preschool experience will be.
Trust others. Remember, the preschool teachers are there for help as well as others in your community. Encouraging your child to trust others builds his understanding of community and his role within it. When he sees adults sharing and communicating, he understands he should, too. This will build his ability to make friends, continue making positive decisions, and build relationships he will have for the rest of his life.
As a parent, and a preschool teacher, I have experienced the ups and downs of both sides of this topic. I am no expert, but have had wondrous results encouraging self-reliant skills in my own child, and many others. Take the time to spend some time with your preschooler, encouraging his self-reliant skills and you, too, will see positive results both at school and at home.