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Our Favourite Ways to Help Your Children Become More Independent

Growing up and becoming independent is part of growing up. Adults are a big part of how well adjusted and independent a child is as they venture out on their own

 

There comes a day when every parent realises their children are all grown up and ready to fly the nest, but what can you do in the lead up to this moment to make sure you've turned your little one into an independent individual?

It can be tough to let go of your baby, but preparing them early will not only set your mind at ease when the day comes, it'll also see them more capable around the house. Whether they're more helpful or not depends on the individual child.

Decision making

One of the most important skills you can teach a child is how to make a decision. Not just any decision, but an educated decision, where the individual understands the ramifications of their decision as well as the rewards.

Start simple and give them a limited number of choices. Help them work through the choices but don't make the decision for them. Take Saturday morning's clothing choice for example. Give them 2 or 3 options, and let them choose. 

Don't let them make the decision blindly, give them some information - i.e. what are they doing for the day? How warm or cold will it be? What are you wearing? etc.

If they decide on a choice that you think is too warm or cold, don't say no - ask why they made the choice they did, and pack a different layer just in case. If they complain about being cold later, ask what they should have brought with them. It can magically appear from your backpack when needed.

You won't always be there to save the day, so eventually, the question when they are getting dressed becomes, "Is there anything else you should take with you just in case?"

Eventually this becomes "What have you packed to take with you?"

This can be applied to make other decisions, from which bedtime story they want to read, to which friend they'd like to invite over for a play date. Remember to ask why they are making the decisions they are making as this will help them think before deciding. 

Responsibility

As parents we can be quick to say 'oh, they're just a child', or to keep treating them like a baby once they start to become more and more capable. Children who are molly-coddled, or never asked to do anything for themselves, often struggle when they set out on their own. It's OK to have expectations of your child, as long as they are reasonable.

Making their own beds in the morning or putting their clothes in the laundry basket are basic expectations - they'll save you time and sanity. Having a task each week - that is their own - is important as well. It should be something that isn't just related to themselves, and contributes to the family as a whole. It could be as simple as matching socks, or clearing the table. Find something they're comfortable with and that you're happy to have off of your list. Some people will tie this in to pocket money, but in most cases some of those tasks should be expected of them without remuneration - if you're asking them to do a long list or something that goes above and beyond, then money can be part of the discussion.

Involvement

Expect your child to get involved. This is easier when they are younger, and is more likely to extend into teenage years if it was ingrained from a young age. Take the weekly shopping for example, why should you do it all by yourself? If you're a list shopper, give them their own list (if they're too little to read, use images and get them to find the match), if you're more of a fly by the seat of your pants shopper, ask them to choose the ripe apples, or to find the Shreddies when you get to the appropriate aisle.

Let them help make dinner, not every day but on the days you have the time (and the patience). Let them set the table, or clear up - or wash the dishes (if you don't have a dishwasher). Involvement needs to be seen as an expectation rather than a choice. If you ask a child if they want to help, some will say yes, others would rather play their video game or take pictures on Snapchat. But if everyone is given a job to help get dinner ready, or get the house clean before guests arrive, you may even find your children start asking how they can help... or pre-empting your request.

Recognition

While you should expect help, that doesn't mean you shouldn't thank them for their participation, praise them for doing a good job, improving their skills, or doing a job in less time than it has taken in the past. This is important as a parent too. When you drop your child off at a play date and they say thank you, it makes the whole thing seem more worthwhile.

If everyone helped get dinner ready, thank everyone at once. If one of your children came shopping, you might tell the rest of the family they can thank that child for choosing the delicious items on the table.

Remember there is a difference between rewards and recognition - rewards have their place, but in most cases, recognition makes the individual feel special and more likely to do things again.

Be positive

It can be really easy to think "I could do that better, or faster, or neater, or etc". But stop yourself from criticizing and look at the bigger picture - they tried. Try to avoid the word no, and stop yourself from taking over.

Say, for example, you have people coming for dinner and you've asked them to put crackers and cheese on a plate. Does it really matter how they do it? Nope. If they roll socks rather than folding them the way you do, does it matter? Nope. They're learning. If there is a specific reason you want them to do it a different way, then find subtle ways of introducing them, i.e. give them a picture of what you want it to look like and get them to replicate it.

If you criticize, it's guaranteed they won't want to help again in future.

Let there be mess

OK, so letting children do things for themselves can be messy. Whether it's feeding themselves, spilling a glass of water, or dropping the eggs while they help you put away the groceries. But it will get better and easier over time.

Find ways to decrease the clean-up time, or get them to help. As children are learning to feed themselves, put down drop sheets, and let them have the time they need to figure it out - don't fall into the trap of doing it for them. Get them to put their own toys away, before they start the next activity - remember that point about responsibility? Whose toys are they? They aren't yours!

Asking for help

Being independent means knowing when you're out of your league and you need help. Remember, there is a difference between helping and doing it for them. Take putting away their clothes for example. If they ask for help, ask why. What is it that they can't do? In many cases it's because the shelf is too high or they can't open a cupboard door. Ask what would help them do it themselves and, where possible, provide the stepping stool or add a handle that is within their reach.

In some cases they'll need more help, which is great - they are learning. Just remember to let them do as much as they can before you step in.

 
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