While you may be concentrating on preparing your preschooler for kindergarten by teaching letters and numbers, it’s also important to introduce skills that will help improve their independence. Self-esteem is partially based on taking care of yourself and contributing to a group in which you belong, says Vicki Hoefle; when your child becomes more independent, his or her self-esteem grows.
Tips for Getting Started
How can you help your preschooler learn to be more independent?
- Keep tasks at an ability-appropriate level. Many people will say “Your five year old should be doing (fill in the blank),” but this is not always the case. Each child grows and develops differently. Some preschoolers might be ready to tie their shoes; others won’t. One child may be able to concentrate on a task for longer than another. When picking tasks for growing independence, choose them based on ability level and not age. If what you have chosen appears too difficult, simplify the task until your preschooler can do it independently.
- Introduce one new task at a time. Since you want your child to feel a sense of accomplishment after completing the tasks you choose, choose one task at a time. This allows your child the opportunity to feel successful without becoming overwhelmed. This is particularly true when you are teaching a harder task, such as tying shoes.
- Give a lot of praise, even when the outcome is not perfect. Kids will not do things the way you do them, and that’s okay. Praise your child when the effort is made, and try to restrain yourself from following behind and ‘fixing’ things. (Really, it’s okay if the bed has some wrinkles!) Fernando Pullum reminds us that if you encourage and applaud what your children do, they are more likely to do it again and again.
Some Tasks for Teaching Preschoolers Independence
The following are a few ideas you can use when teaching your preschooler to be more independent.
- Cleaning up their play area. To make this less frustrating at first, I put one box of toys out for my girls to play with, and when they were finished playing they only had to put the toys back inside the one box. Older children can clean up larger areas of toys. You can also work on sorting during clean up time: markers go in one tin, crayons in another tin, and pencils in a third.
- Everyday tasks. Tim Wheeler says you can always have children help with everyday household tasks. Allow your preschooler to help make dinner by mixing items or carrying them to the table. My girls have helped in the kitchen since they were very young, and now my seven year old makes scrambled eggs for Sunday breakfast while my ten-year-old cooks pancakes on the griddle. I supervise, but they do these independently. Other ideas: fill the sink with soapy water and let your child wash the unbreakables, or have your preschooler help empty the dishwasher. My kids enjoy sorting the silverware from the dishwasher bin to the silverware drawer.
- Making choices. Toddlers love to feel in control, so work on independence by giving them choices. Ask, ‘Do you want to color or do you want to walk to the park?’ or let them choose between two lunch ideas. Keep the choices simple, and go along with what they decide. Then congratulate them on their choice, which will make them feel proud of their decision.
How do you teach your preschooler to be more independent? Are there specific tasks they enjoy doing?