Written by Natascha Crandall, PhD. - Educational Curriculum Consultant
Learning how to function independently is a critical developmental milestone for toddlers and preschoolers. Nothing helps foster optimism and resilience in young children – the central tenets of Zoonicorn – like taking their first steps toward independence.
As parents, we want to give our children the confidence and the space to do things on their own. At the same time, we worry about keeping them safe. Balancing our instinct to protect our children with the urge to allow them to discover and learn – and sometimes fail – is one of the toughest parenting challenges we face. But this one is essential. As Maria Montessori said, gaining independence is “…a task children must accomplish in order to grow.” Thus, it is our responsibility to help them achieve this by taking a step back at times, so that they can become more self-reliant and in control of their situations.
We’ve all had that moment of impatience when, perhaps after a long day, or in the morning when we need to get out the door, we take over and do the tasks for our child, simply so they can get done quickly. But holding back and giving children time to figure out the task at hand for themselves is a necessary early step toward them becoming confident adults. When your child comes home from school, remind them that they are responsible for taking off their jacket and shoes and put away their things. Likewise, setting up a predictable routine is another way for young children to become more independent; they are more likely to do for themselves when they know what’s happening next.
Chores also help children learn independence. Taking on simple jobs and helping around the house enables them to feel ownership over these activities and empowered as a result. Choices are another entry into independent thinking. Give your child two options and let the decision be theirs. Let them pick out pajamas, healthy snacks, and favorite play activities. Finally, consider how to make playtime an independent activity. Free play is a chance for children to learn creativity and problem solving. Give your child some crayons or blocks and let them come up with their own activity.
Try to avoid engaging in an ongoing power struggle with your preschooler. Developing independence can mean children do or say the opposite of what an adult asks, as a way of asserting their free will. It’s important to remember this is normal and expected. Of course, you are the adult and you make the rules. If there’s a behavior that’s particularly important to you, be firm and consistent each time a struggle begins, and make your expectations clear.
On Zoonicorn, our stories, and our characters, plant the seeds for young children to develop and grow social emotional skills around independence. While empowering and joyful, independence can also be scary – for children and parents alike. It’s up to us to support our children as they embark on this remarkable developmental journey.