Dr Richard C. Woolfson
There are two driving forces that turn your child who’s three or four into Little Mr Independent. First, he has a natural-born desire to do more for himself. Secondly, as his parent, you spontaneously encourage him to become more self-sufficient because you know it’s an essential part of growing up.
There are three main parental views on independence:
1. Rigorous: These parents want their child to become independent as quickly as possible. Right from day one, they try to move him on from “baby” to “big boy”. Independence is praised; dependence is punished.
2. Realistic: These parents recognise that independence is a gradual process. Expectations are quite reasonable and they don’t compare their child with others.
3. Casual: These parents allow their children to develop at their own pace, without undue pressure. For them, childhood is a time of happiness, not training. A time of being fussed over, not a time for carrying out chores.
Whichever type you are, one thing’s for sure: your four-year-old needs your encouragement to become independent.
You should consider your child’s emotional needs. For instance, an insecure child may become even more afraid if he feels you expect too much of him, whereas that same approach might suit a child who is very confident, adventurous and single-minded. Whichever approach you take comes down to knowing your own child.
Also, there may be psychological reasons why he has difficulty shedding his dependency on you:
1. Illness You and the family may be reluctant to push him too hard because you feel sorry for him. He, in turn, is used to everyone fussing and helping him.
2. Hazards Accidents can happen. Teach him how to avoid unnecessary risks rather than simply curtailing his independence.
3. Learning difficulties: You might have to lower your expectations. Whatever level of independence he’s at, he can slowly improve.
WHAT SHOULD I DO?
A child may be afraid of failure, or of not being as capable as his friends or siblings. Reassure him that he can succeed.
Some children fail to see the point of becoming independent. Tell him about the benefits, like “If you learn how to pour yourself a glass of lemonade, you won’t need to wait for me to do it for you” or “If you tidy the toys away quickly, you’ll have a few more minutes to watch TV.” They help him understand and encourage his development.
It’s also important not to expect too much too soon. What is simple to you (eg, pulling his socks off), may be a big thing to a poorly coordinated three-year-old. He needs time to master each task properly. And just because your No. 1 found something easy, this doesn’t mean he will. Each child has his own speed for reaching independence.