Dr Richard C. Woolfson
By six, your child really is old enough to take responsibility for a great deal of her own personal care. For instance, she should be able to comb her hair, carry her school bag, tidy up her mess and pick her things up from the floor.
But if you have a domestic helper, you may well find that she tends to do most of these tasks for your child. It’s time you taught your little princess to be more independent. Before you discuss this with her, first have a chat with your helper. Explain that you are glad she cares enough about your child that she wants to do all these things for her, but add that you now want your kid to become more independent. You need to have your helper on board with your plans or she will continue to do everything for her.
WHY SHOULD I?
You’ll probably face an uphill struggle trying to persuade your child to become independent because she won’t see any point in it. You need to tell her the benefits of being less reliant on your helper.
So spell it out for her clearly. Say: “If you learn how to clean your room, then your clothes won’t be crushed and dirty from lying on the floor.” Or “If you buy your own snack at the food court, you’ll have more fun when we take you there with your friends.” She’ll understand practical examples like these.
There’s no magic formula. You just need to make sure you and the other adults at home work together. Gaining independence requires your child to move outside her comfort zone, although at first she may find that challenge too difficult.
So give her lots of reassurance and encouragement. If she sees you take a genuine interest in her progress, her motivation will be higher.
LITTLE STEPS COUNT
It’s also important not to expect too much too soon. What may seem like a simple task to you (for example, dressing herself for school in the morning or tidying her room) may seem monumental when she has been used to someone else doing this for her. She needs time to master each task. Progress may be slow but it will be steady.
Make all independence targets clear. For instance, “I want you to put both socks on by yourself” is clearer than simply telling her, “I want you to get dressed on your own”. Tell your child exactly what you expect her to achieve. And remember that most children prefer small, steady changes in independence rather than huge jumps.
Praise her when her attempts succeed. The more success she achieves when she tries to do things herself, the more enthusiasm she has for further progress. And always reassure her when she’s upset by failure. Keep your expectations realistic; she won’t become totally independent overnight.
Since the process is easier when she thinks ahead, ask her to imagine that she has made her choice and to think about the practical effects of that decision on herself and others. This gets her into the habit of pondering in advance about the consequences of her independence.
You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised how quickly your little princess improves her self-help skills. Once she realises the helper isn’t going to do all those tasks for her anymore, she’ll know she has to do them on her own.
(Photo: Alina Shilzhyavichyute/123RF.com)