I Can Do It Myself: A Guide to Fostering Independence in Children

Oct 24, 2012

As parents we get so accustomed to assisting our children with everyday tasks that it becomes second nature. We wipe noses, choose clothes and spoon food into mouths just to name a few of our daily tasks, but often we forget that our children are not babies anymore. By the time a child reaches age three there are many things that he or she can do, and often want to do, without help. Celebrate this time of new independence for your child; do not run away from it. Yes, it may lead some messy lunches, a few spilled glasses of milk and perhaps even a few crazy outfits; however, your child will gain confidence and pride in accomplishing a personal task for him or herself. Here some important tasks your child should be able to accomplish broken down by age.

By the time your child is three he or she should be able to or working on the following basic personal skills:

  1. Choose clothes and assist in the process of getting dressed. Your child should be able to sit on the floor and put his or her feet through the leg holes in underwear and pants and help pull them up, although the zipper and snap can be challenging. They should also be learning to put a shirt over his or her head. These skills are challenging for a three-year-old, but each day will get easier.
  2. Get on and off the toilet successfully. This includes getting pants down and up and wiping. Again, snaps, buckles and zippers may be a challenge. Wiping may also be challenging but your child should at least be know this is his or her responsibility but that sometimes they may need help…for now!
  3. Eat a meal using utensils independently. A three-year-old child should be able to use a spoon to eat his or her yogurt, use a fork to eat his or her veggies and drink from a small cup successfully. This may make for some messy meals but practice makes perfect.

By the time your child is four he or she should be able to or working on the following basic personal skills in addition to having mastered all three-year-old skills:

  1. Choose clothing independently and get dressed. By four-years-old the only assistance needed should be with complicated buttons, snaps and zippers as well as dresses with complex closures. Tying shoes may be introduced but most likely not mastered or even partially proficient.
  2. Personal hygiene beyond the toilet. A four-year-old should be able to brush his or her teeth, brush his or her hair and wash his or her hands and face. A child may not always want to do this, especially at bedtime, but it should be a something he or she can do independently.
  3. Zipper or button a coat. This is a challenging skill, but it should be one you work on daily with your four-year-old. He or she should try independently each day to close his or her coat; you may need to assist in the end, but your child should know that it is his or her responsibility.

By the time your child is five he or she should be able to or working on the following basic personal skills in addition to having mastered all three-year-old and four-year-old skills:

  1. Tie his or her shoes. This is a challenging skill, but it should be mastered during the kindergarten year.
  2. Make his or her bed. Pottery Barn Kids will most likely not be calling you for a magazine photo shoot, but that is not the point. The point is that your child realizes that this is his or her own daily responsibility and must be completed. As long as the blankets and pillows are close to where they should be, leave it as is and call it a victory!
  3. Pack up his or her backpack and get all things ready for school. This means making sure homework is complete and in the folder, the folder is in the bag and any extra things required at school are packed and ready. Give him or her a hand in this process and help him or her master this by the end of kindergarten. You will be happy you did once first grade begins!

It is really hard for most parents to let go of this control in their child’s life, but remember that independence is a positive thing for a child. When he or she is given the opportunity to do things for him or herself it fosters a sense of self-esteem and confidence. He or she will begin to feel like you believe in him or her and that you are a forever-cheerleader in their corner.

Check out this book to start a discussion with your child about independence:
I Can Do It Myself by Stephen Krensky
ISBN # 978-1-4197-0400-0

Wishing you peaceful parenting,
Christin Clark