I have to admit, in my non-parenting years, I never thought independence was something that had to be ‘taught’ as in– ‘Don’t kids just WANT to do things on their own naturally?’ – ok – I know I was clueless. Independence is a multi-faceted big glob of interconnected details – as we soon found out! What I mean is – independence (at least in our experience) is a mix of physical capability, environment, interest and knowledge. For example – if we wanted our toddler to dress herself she would need to –
- Be able to put the shirt on her head and pull down (physical capability)
- Be able to access her shirts (environment)
- Does she even WANT to? If she doesn’t how do we get her to want to? (interest)
- Does she know how to get about putting her shirt/pants/skirt on? (knowledge)
<sigh> Nothing is simple in parenting.
What we’ve found is the interest part does come natural especially if you start early. The way you have your ‘environment’ set up is pretty important in terms of completing the whole independence spectrum.
Recently we’ve been having some difficulty with getting our 5 year-old to get ready in the morning or before bedtime – and on top of that – dealing with the mountain of laundry that needs to get done every few days. So I figured it sure would be nifty if with ‘independence’ everyone wins :-)
We’ve figured out that her closet was organized more for us rather than for her. As the ‘before’ picture shows – her shirts were hung high, her pjs were also on a high drawer – this configuration has her able to reach her dresses but not her shirts. Her pj’s were out of reach and worse – when she tries to do it herself the drawer would sometimes almost tip on her.
Well – we reconfigured her closet around – party clothes, off-season items, larger sized clothing on the top rung (in short – stuff she doesn’t really need access to). Moved her shirts to the lower rung and moved her PJ drawers to the floor. I have to say – our closet isn’t fancy but I’m glad we were able to easily reconfigure it. We also added an Ikea step stool that stays in the closet for her to access her dresses. As well as a box on the floor for unused hangers (the box fits under her shirts).
We were surprised (I guess we should have seen it coming) how much happier she was with the new set-up. She immediately got to work pulling things out to wear for school the next day! : -)
On a side note – We have been having trouble encouraging our potty training toddler to grab her own underwear after ‘accidents’. I realized the pile of underpants – although within arms reach was still a little too high for her – we simply moved it to another lower area and voila! She’s been grabbing her own underpants without us having to remind her (hallelujah)!
OK it’s not all roses – the downside (if you want to call it a downside) for independence are parents relinquishing control – yes – she or he will wear THOSE pair of pants with THAT shirt. Little sacrifices for big rewards.
Now, for our 5 year-old, we fold her clothes and place it in her bedroom and she puts them where they belong in her closet after school. Saving us a step :-) Win-win — of course I know it’s not always going to be this smooth – but she also knows that all her stuff will start piling up on her table if she doesn’t put things away. On our end it does take self-control not to do it for her because we do it ‘quicker’ – in the long run we know it’s better to control ourselves and let things run its course. Next step – sorting and folding (fingers crossed).
Here are a couple other things we also did to her Bedroom –
- Toys are all accessible – she knows where they belong – little items have little plastic containers (we use empty salad/spinach containers).
- Separate book area with a little basket on the floor for books she is currently reading.
- Hamper for laundry – easier for her to have a hamper in her room rather than in the laundry room.
- We do let her plan how to decorate her room – independence is easier when she is proud of how her room looks.
Independence takes a lot of patience on our part and work on our kid’s part. Our jobs as independence enablers don’t end when they ‘know’ how to do things – it is also our responsibility to follow through with our own actions – I aim to not be a nag… it’s surprisingly hard but at the same time so much more rewarding to see our kids happy with what they are able to do on their own!
Stay tuned for Part 2 – Independence in the Kitchen and Part 3 – Independence in the Bathroom!
- Teaching Independence (sortedmegablocks.wordpress.com)
- How To Teach Kids Responsibility (familymatterswithamber.com)