How to Teach Kids to Be Independent

First day of school today! I wasn’t feeling 100%, so I laid in bed while the kids got themselves completely ready. It has taken five years to get to this point, but it’s paying off now and I’m glad I invested time in to teaching my kids how to look after themselves. So how do you get to this point? Firstly I think of what kind of adult I want my child to become. When they go to Uni or work, will they be an entitled taker and expect me to make their meals, clean up after them, do their washing and be their chauffeur? Or will they prepare their own meals, have their own car and driver’s licence, do their own washing and be a contributor? We’ve all come across adults who are takers and expect other people to do everything for them; they’re not much fun to be around and find it hard to fit in the real world.

So if I want my child to be an independent, responsible adult, I need to start training them when they are little. Toddlers love ‘helping’. They like to get a little step and join in when I’m preparing food, or ‘help’ wash dishes by splashing water everywhere. I can choose to view this as an irritating interruption to my day, or realise that this interest in ‘helping’ is my cue to start training! This can be frustrating, but the secret here is to slow down, include them and look at the bigger picture. I encourage them and thank them for being helpful, even if they are making it take longer and making more of a mess! It’s temporary. Elijah (3) can get himself ready by brushing teeth, putting shoes on (usually on the wrong feet!), putting shorts on, putting his overnight nappy in the bin, drop used clothes in the laundry basket, get out the milk and his own bowl and spoon, etc.

Preschool aged kids start to become helpful. They can fold their uniform, do dishes, make their lunch, tie shoelaces, etc. The key for this age group is to encourage the effort they put in. It’s not going to be perfect. If they make their own breakfast they might spill the milk and get Weet-Bix everywhere. It’s not a big deal. I don’t say, ‘You made a mess!’ Instead, I say, ‘Wow! Did you get your breakfast all by yourself? Well done! Here’s a cloth to wipe the bench when you’re finished.’ If they can cross their shoelaces over but not do the loopy bit, I let them do what they can on their own, and only do the part they can’t do, until they get it. I never do things for a child that they can do themselves.

Primary school kids have the potential to be independent. This morning Kale (8) made himself scrambled eggs, Jewel (5) boiled eggs for herself and Ash, and knew when to put a timer on and for how long, Ash (10) drained the boiling water from the eggs and chopped up the veggie sticks for herself and Jewel, while Jewel watched the eggs. They washed their dishes. Jewel knows how to plait her own hair. It isn’t perfect but who cares? In a few years she will be so good at it that people will think I do her hair!

It makes a child feel really proud to know that they have done everything themselves! When the other kids are complaining about what their mum did or didn’t put in their lunchbox, they say, ‘well why don’t you make your own lunch if you don’t like how your mum does it?’ It’s nice to have time to get myself ready for my day, but what I love most is that they are on the right track to becoming adults that will take responsibility for looking after themselves! I remind my kids there is no magical fairy that is going to do everything for them when they are an adult, and the sooner they learn that the better their lives will be! Think about what kind of adult you want your child to become and take daily steps towards that goal!