The best thing you can do for a child is encourage them to be independent.

by Heena Modi on February 26, 2009

Does this title make you think of many other things you can do for a child that are more important? You are right! It goes without saying that they need to be fed, loved, given shelter etc. However, after all that, the adults in the child’s life would do them a great service if they helped them become independent. It takes time and effort but the benefits will last a lifetime!


What do I mean?

What does it look like?

Here are some ideas…

Let them carry their own things to school. Why? They will forever expect others to carry their things for them.

Teach them to do their coat up and give them opportunities to practise this skill. Why? They’ll spend their playtime putting it on while their friends have got their coat, hat and scarf on and have started playing. It can’t be nice to watch your friends do all this and be outside while you still struggle to do it. There aren’t enough adults in class to help all the children get ready for play so they have to wait. The answer isn’t more adults. The solution lies in empowering your child to do it themselves.

Allow them to make a mess. This will give them the opportunity to clear up. At school, the children are expected to clear up after themselves. This is another life skill which they will need more and more as they get older.

Independent eating! Let them start to feed themselves before they start school. We see so many children who cannot use cutlery, which is not bad. However, it is a shame when children are so used to being fed that they won’t even pick up the food with their hands. They sit and wait for someone to come and do it for them. At lunchtime there aren’t enough members of staff to do this. Should there be?

Encourage them to get the things that they need. You’ll be surprised to hear that some children sit waiting for a pencil because there aren’t enough on his/her table. Wouldn’t you think it was logical to get up and get one? This applies to other things that they need too. The adults may not realise that they need something unless the child asks or uses their initiative to resolve the issue themselves. It can very frustrating when you go to see a child’s work and find that they haven’t even started it because they didn’t have a pencil, rubber or that there wasn’t enough paper on their table.

Hygiene. Help them take care of themselves so they know how to clean up when they have finished in the toilet. They need to know how to wipe, where to dispose of the tissue and how to wash their hands properly. This is for their benefit and for the children and staff who are around them.

Ask them questions so that they can put their thoughts together like a jigsaw puzzle. Encourage them to make links between feelings and reactions. This will empower them to manage themselves.

Talk to them about things that have a ‘set’ pattern or those that happen at a certain time. Some children don’t realise that they need to go to the toilet or they don’t ask if they can go and they’ll feel ill or do what they need to do in their clothes. We’ll discover it when we detect a smell and investigate further. Of course, if this happens, the child will need to be washed and they’ll need to change their clothes. If some of it came out of their clothes, the furniture and floor will need to be cordoned off and cleaned.

Schools have a role to play in education but we are not the beginning and end of it. Children need to be supported by other adults at home before, after and during their school years. This does not mean tutoring. Education is a lot more than the academic.

Children grasp a lot more when they are younger. Thus it shouldn’t be that hard if you start early. Alternatively if you try and tell a 10 year old that they need to be responsible for their belongings when you’ve never expected them to before, they’ll find it very difficult to accept. Wouldn’t you?

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