"I can do it myself." We hear those words a lot from young children. I always love hearing it from toddlers, who are beginning to realise that they are indeed capable of doing things for themselves. But, emerging independence can sometimes pose a challenge for us as educators or parents.
When my youngest child was around a year old, she began insisting on climbing into her carseat herself and putting her arms through the straps. If someone lifted her into the seat, there would be hell to pay. I'm talking crying, throwing herself on the floor of the car, and flat out refusal to be buckled in (you know - the "stiff as a board" trick?)
There were some people in our lives who suggested that this was a tantrum and that she was just putting it on to get her own way. But I saw it differently. She knew that she was capable of climbing into her seat herself. She wanted that little bit of independence. We've always joked that she's our "I can do it" and "I'm okay" child. She has always wanted to do things for herself. Even now, as a seven year old, if she can't reach something she finds a step stool and works it out. If I see her struggling and ask "can I help you with that?" she says, "no thanks, I can do it."
This "tantrum" over the carseat was a long running thing. If I forgot or was in a hurry, and just tried to lift her into the seat and do it for her, it made for a pretty challenging time. But, when I allowed a few moments extra (because emerging independence often takes a little longer) the pay off was that she felt proud of herself, and we were all much happier!
Embracing Emerging Independence
There are things that we can do to support children as they navigate their emerging independence:
1. Allow extra time in your routine - if you know that Freddy wants to put his own shoes on, allow a few extra minutes in the "getting ready to go outside" time. Accept that independence often takes longer initially.
2. Set up your environment - ensure that your environment enables children to access what they need independently. Can they pour their own drink without having to ask? Can they reach their belongings? We talk about this at length in our upcoming session "Creating Environments That Support Emerging Independence" on 16th August 2022. You can find out more and register HERE
3. Think about what matters most - is it more important that the table is "spill free" or that Sienna learns how to pour her own drink and experiences a sense of achievement? Is your connection with the child more important to you than a clean floor?
4. Encourage effort - it might not always go to plan, but it's always great to have a go. We want to encourage children to try new things, to challenge themselves, and not to feel that they "failed" if it they didn't get it the first time. A great example of this: Briar (2) puts her shoes on herself. She stands up and smiles and walks to the door. The educator sees that they are on the wrong feet, but instead of saying "wrong feet", the educator tells Briar what a great job she did putting them on herself, and then shows her how the shoes look different and feel different when on the other feet.
We want to embrace emerging independence when children are little, so that when they are bigger (teenagers for example!) - they feel confident to put on a load of washing, or cook dinner for themselves, or pack their own lunch.
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