Note: This is the fourth installment of a multi-part series. Other articles about “The Real Keys to Success After Preschool” can be found on this blog.
Newborn babies are dependent on us for everything. In the moments after birth, we hold them, feed them, diaper and comfort them. It takes seconds to become the person who provides for all their needs but it takes a lifetime to let go. The challenge of raising children is that it is, at the same time, our job to care for them and teach them to stop needing us. From the time they first reach for something they want, it is our job to help them to do it themselves.
One of the most important skills that a child can take from the preschool years is the ability to care for his or her own needs. We instill confidence and a sense of capability when we teach children to be independent. We know that children need to be potty trained, able to feed themselves and put clothes on independently by kindergarten. It all sounds simple enough but there are many steps to each of those tasks and others that add up to independence.
True independence begins when babies begin to crawl. They can get from place to place without assistance. When they can walk, they can do so even more efficiently. Children who can walk should be encouraged to walk. There are times when they need to be in a stroller or be carried for safety or in the interest of time. There are, however, other times that they could walk and they should. Help your children to feel more grown up and capable by encouraging them to hold your hand and walk from the car to home or preschool. You’ll be glad that walking is the norm when they become too heavy to be easily carried.
It is terrific when young children can pull up their pants and put on their coats. Their clothes also need fasteners that they can manage on their own. Snaps are very difficult for young children to manipulate. Fastening snaps takes a great deal of fine motor strength. The ability to button also requires fine motor strength and coordination. Pants with elastic that can be easily pulled up are best until approximately 3 years old. Coats with big buttons are easier to manage than those with small buttons. Zippers are a challenge until approximately 4-5 years old. By 4 years old, children should be encouraged to button, snap, zip and buckle. Some children will master it quickly at that age while others will need practice. It is important to note that tying shoes is not usually mastered until between the ages of 5-7 years old. It takes planning to allot enough time each day for your children to attempt those important skills but it will be worth the effort when they look triumphant after they succeed. Help them to experience that success by selecting clothes are aren’t complicated and by allowing them the time to independently care for themselves before leaving the house, using the bathroom and spending time with their friends.
Eating independently is more than just picking up food with fingers, spoons or forks and putting it in your mouth. Eating independently includes the ability to open as many food containers as possible. Resist the urge to open every container and put the straw in the juice box. You will be amazed at how quickly they master the sandwich bag or straw wrapper when given the opportunity. Try to avoid complicated plastic containers that are a challenge for adults to open and close. Switch from sippy cups to regular cups with or without a straw as soon as possible. Overuse of sippy cups can actually cause malformations that contribute to speech problems. Sippy cups are not intended to be a substitute bottle and shouldn’t be treated as such. The transition from bottle to cup/straw should be brief and include a sippy cup for only approximately one month.
Learning to use the toilet is a focus for a good part of the preschool years. Some children train earlier than others. They will begin to use the toilet when they are ready. We cannot force them to be ready but when they are, we need to ensure that they learn to not only use the toilet but also wipe themselves and wash their hands. Young children are not the best wipers and they never will be the best if adults continually do it for them. You can use a combination of toilet paper and flushable wipes to help them become independent users of the toilet. When they are done, they need to wash their hands themselves. They need to learn to pump a soap bottle and wipe their hands.
Think about everything you do with your young child each day. Consider how you can help your child to become more independent. With every triumph of independence comes the self-esteem needed to succeed in the years to come.
Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
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