Fostering Independence in Young Children

It can be overwhelming when you find out you’re expecting another baby before your first is still kind of a baby. I guess, technically, Sweet Girl is a toddler now – she’ll be 2 in August – but I can tell you that if we didn’t foster so much independence over the first part of her life I would be so much more nervous about bringing a new child into our home.

As most, if not all, parents do when they find out they are pregnant for the first time, I looked into different parenting styles. I was never focused on what I would be able to call my own because it is such a mash-up of different things and it will sometimes change day to day. But I felt a connection with two styles of parenting in particular because of my own feelings about children and what they need from us – attachment parenting and the Montessori method. I’m not going to go into detail because you can easily look up what they both entail, I’m just going to talk about what I’ve seen in my own daughter compared to other children her age I’ve interacted with and observed.

Sweet Girl is equal parts independent and parent-sufficient. She still loves being close to mom and dad and will usually make sure she can see us at all times. There will be days that she needs to be held a ton, particularly if she doesn’t sleep well the night before. We still need to provide assistance on the potty (yes, she is mostly potty trained as well) and with clothing. And she, of course, still needs help in the bath – she is only 20 months old, after all. That being said, she can entertain herself for a while if we’re close by – as I’m writing this post she is building towers with her blocks. She is so close to getting herself dressed every day, shirts are just hard. She understands just about everything we ask her and will follow directions really well when she’s not in a funny mood, as all toddlers get. She absolutely loves to be a helper and always wants to help with laundry or cooking, and is much happier when we ask her to do things for herself, like picking out her clothes or getting her things ready to leave.

I know that bringing baby home will not be easy. Sweet Girl will be just about 2 years old (Baby’s due date is Sweet Girl’s birthday) so we’ll just have to wait and see what her reaction will be. But I know that I won’t have two in diapers, I won’t have two kids waking me up all night long so I’ll be able to get a decent amount of sleep… sometimes. I will hopefully get some semblance of time for myself during the day because Sweet Girl can independent play and she is still taking a 1.5-2 hour nap every day.

Now, I don’t judge other parents for their choices. I am a full believer in doing what works best for your own specific situation so that you can be happy and take care of your children to the best of your ability. But I do think that some parents see their kids as helpless a lot of the time. There are very little expectations on their independence until that one day it’s needed. It seems to me that parents are happily going about their usual business – carrying baby/toddler everywhere or using the stroller for everything; using diapers for 3 or 4 years; cleaning up after kids when they make a mess – and then one day they reach their absolute limit. They just can’t do those things anymore without losing their sanity and expect an immediate change in the child. Unfortunately, especially with kids under the age of 4 or 5, they just can’t make that change because it goes against what has been expected of them.

Children are capable of so much. When I first had Sweet Girl I was dreading having to potty train a three year old, with accompanying tantrums and power struggles. But because we introduced to potty at 8 months old (to get her comfortable with the whole process) we are out of diapers during the day completely. She has been sleeping on her floor bed for a while now and no longer throws a fit when it’s time to go to bed – she grabs a couple books to read from the shelf and goes straight to her room. She will pick up her toys (for the most part) when asked. She will get her own snacks when told.

All of this is not to say that we do nothing for her. We hold her when she asks for it or needs it. We always respond when she cries, which isn’t often. We lay with her as she falls asleep for naps and bedtime (thank you, floor bed). But I fully believe that because we have encouraged her independence from the beginning we are looking at a more prepared child, especially with our new little one on the way. Her independence is such a joy to see and at such a (typically) young age. Like I said, we’ll see what happens when someone else is getting mom’s attention and time, but I think that transition will be made a little easier because we have continuously let her do her own thing, and showed her she is a very capable young person.

Do your own thing, do what works for your family, but I promise you can start as early as you want to foster independence in your children. You won’t be pushing them away and I promise they will still need you. But they will be so much more prepared for new situations to arise when they are treated respectfully (and age appropriately) and expected to do more than be catered to. And I promise, you will be grateful you started this early so you don’t end up with older children, teenagers, and young adults who are seemingly incapable of doing anything for themselves. Do everyone a favor: INDEPENDENCE.

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