Dr. John Rosemond identifies seasons in parenting wherein we take on different roles with respect to our children’s age and parenting needs. After the age of 2, children are no longer the center of the universe and parents shift from serving to leading their children. In the preschool, the parents often ask us to talk about discipline. In one of our Parenting Seminars, we opted to discuss about independence as many parents seem to get stuck on the serving stage and “disciplining” becomes a challenge because the child has not learned to follow the leader.
- Prepare the environment– In school, the classroom is set up in such a way that kids can get their toy or book of choice. Corners are rounded and electrical sockets are covered. Preparing a safe environment both in school and at home encourages independence as children are allowed to explore freely without parents worrying that they will get hurt. If toys and books are within reach, expect also that your child be able to pack away on her own.
- Set limits– Let your child know there are rules and limits but within those limits is freedom. In school, children have the freedom to choose their activity during Free Play. The children are aware, however, that as they are free to do what they want they must follow social rules such as sharing, taking turns and using gentle hands. At home, our kids are given freedom in the Play Room so long as they take care of their toys, play nice and pack away.
- Follow Through – When rules are broken, there are consequences. We want to encourage not only independence but also a sense of responsibility. Make sure consequences are logical and you are able to follow through with them. When your child grabs and refuses to share, the logical consequence is to give the child time out from the toy until she is ready to play nice.
- Talk time – Set time to talk to your child and really listen to what he or she has to say. Giving this undivided attention to your child and acknowledging his or her feelings and thoughts builds their confidence. With a higher self-esteem, the child is more open to try doing things independently.
- Give responsibilities – Assigning simple chores to your child fosters independence as he or she tries to accomplish tasks by himself or herself. In school, we have job charts and children are assigned to be line leaders or weather checkers. At home, we have Mattina put away soiled clothes and she practices her classifying skills as she puts Mommy’s clothes in one hamper and her clothes in another.
- Raise Expectations – I say this with respect to developmental milestones. Educate yourself with what children your child’s age are able to do and, depending on your child’s personal strengths, raise the bar a little. After she’s able to hold a spoon well, have her try feeding herself. In school, Snack Time is a great way to practice the children’s self help skills.
- Do Not rescue – Resist the urge to redo things your child has done and try to step back when you’re child is already able to do a certain task. In school we’ve seen many caregivers who sit in that try to do their child’s artwork. As the child explores pasting, the caregiver peels of the piece of paper and places it right smack into where it should be. Children need to try some things for themselves so they can learn from experience. At home, let your child feed herself. If you’re concerned that the child won’t be able to eat enough, then help her at first. When she’s almost done, let her finish on her own so she gets enough practice.
- Let them find the solution – Try to not always give the answer. Encourage your child’s attempts at solving problems and accomplishing things before you offer help. If your child can’t open a box of biscuits, let her try and figure it out first before you barge in and intervene. If she can’t reach something, see if she can figure out that she needs something to step on. Let them find a way but be close by to ensure their safety.
- Give choices – Encourage them to decide for themselves so that they also learn how to trust I their own capabilities. This is not to say that you let them choose whatever they want to eat or you give them a choice on whether it is time for bed or not. As we said earlier, give freedom within set limits. For example, I let Mattina choose what she wants to wear from two or three dresses that I’ve already chosen for her. This way, whatever she picks has already been pre-screened. Still, I try to be flexible and let her wear princess gowns and fairy wings when she’s playing at home.
Be a leader – In our preschool, we believe that children develop at different rates. Some may be ready to talk in sentences at 1.8 while some are still learning at 2.6. We respect these differences and support them based on what they can already do and what we would like them to learn. In both the school and at home, I feel there should be a balance between waiting for the child to be ready and creating opportunities for the child to step up. Some kids have entered our doors never having used utensils before. We set up the opportunity by requesting the parents to send food such as rice and pasta for Snack Time. The child is then led to try using utensils in an environment wherein he will be encouraged. At home, I’ve tried to lead Mattina to independence by setting up opportunities to relinquish bottle use. I showed her how to drink milk from a cup and sat beside her as she resisted, tried, got use to it and eventually liked it.