PARENTS often have a tough time finding a balance between raising their child to be independent and ensuring the child is safe. While we want children to learn to do things on their own, there is a fear of letting them go in case they hurt themselves or are harmed by predators (in the streets or in cyberspace).
The process of raising independent children really starts from the time they are toddlers and not just when they are old enough to take care of themselves, says psychologist and family therapist Ivy Tan.
Parents will be able to recognise that their child wants to gain autonomy when they start saying they want to do things themselves – for example feed themselves or brush their own teeth or even dress themselves.
“You have to see where your child is at that time. Take into account the child’s strengths, weaknesses and personality. Usually, by three years old, the child would try to seek independence and do things on his own.
“This is where you’re guiding and not strictly controlling the child. And slowly you release that more and more, stage by stage, knowing how much your child can cope with,” says Ivy.
It starts with simple things like feeding himself, brushing his own teeth, bathing on his own and dressing himself.
Although it takes time and there might be a mess initially (especially with regards to brushing his teeth or feeding himself), parents should use this as an opportunity to guide their children on how to do these things on their own.
Parents may start with asking them to take the stool themselves to stand on so that they can reach the sink. Then teach them how to pinch the tube of toothpaste, how much to pinch and how to do it.
For a child that may be good enough to start with because that means they are gaining independence and mum isn’t doing it for them.
The same thing may be applied to feeding themselves. Perhaps parents can ask them to get their own plate and spoon and fork.
Brushing teeth and feeding themselves will probably be messy when they start.
According to Ivy, messing up is to be expected. This is where parents should be patient as messing up is part of the child’s learning process, and parents should be careful how they react to mess in these situations.
“You have to just be patient because they are learning a skill. You cannot push your child to learn faster because you want it your way. You have to consider whether it is good for you or beneficial for the child.
“It is easier of course for you to feed your child rather than clean up the mess. But it is recommended that you allow them to learn this skill, otherwise at the end of the day, your child will never learn and will depend on you for everything.
“If parents react negatively to the mess, the child will lose confidence and might not want to do it again. Messing up as they go along is part of the process of learning for the child. You don’t want to take that away from them.”
Apart from that, there are certain things children should know how to do on their own before they go to school. For example, how to feed themselves, go potty, ask for help and which things should not be done in public.
These are all part of teaching your child to be independent.
The older child
As they grow older, there will be other skills that parents need to guide and coach them on such as crossing the road and going to the park or shop alone.
“When you want to cross the road, they might tell you not to hold their hand and say they want to walk alone. Now that they’re a little bit older you can give them options as they have a sense of yes, no, good, bad, wrong, right,” says Ivy.
“When you give them an option, it gives them a sense of independence. At the end of the day, the goal of every child is to seek independence. At every stage, they want more independence, so rather than restrict them, give them options and monitor them.”
She suggests parents give their kids the option of you holding their hand or holding their hair.
“They want to be adults and cross the road or walk to school but it’s still unsafe for them so you let them pick an option – that you hold their hand or hold their hair. Put it in a humorous way. Of course a lot of them will say hold their hand. So, you validate, acknowledge they want to be adults but this time mummy is going to hold their hand.”
If they want to go to the park alone or walk to the nearby shops alone, you need to assess if they are ready for it – are the