How to foster your child’s independence

Your child can become more confident in their abilities with the right guidance! A balance of encouragement, support and patience will go a long way in nurturing independence in your young child. Here are some ways you can help build their independence at each stage of development:

Ages 0-2

As your baby or toddler develops motor and cognitive skills, they will start to try doing more for themselves. Give them a chance to put food in their mouth, pick things up and make choices between toys to play with. The opportunity to make choices and do things themselves will help them learn the value of accomplishing tasks and being self-reliant.

Of course, babies won’t be able to do everything themselves! Be ready to lend a hand when they start to get frustrated. Try to use your baby’s growing communication skills to your advantage. Knowing how to interpret their words or actions can help you figure out if they need help or not. Being able to understand your child’s needs will help you cooperate with them and encourage their independence.

Ages 3-4

Young children at this age have discovered that they can make choices! While this growing independence is part of their development, it can be challenging for parents. Preschoolers don’t always want to go to bed, leave the playground or eat their vegetables.

While using your authority to make them eat their vegetables might work short-term, it may harm your relationship and won’t make them any more likely to eat vegetables in the future. Talking to them about how they feel might give you clues on how to solve it in a more constructive way. For children this age, compromising or giving them alternative choices can help settle conflicts. Involving them in planning and rule-making can keep them interested in family activities and help them learn self-reliance.

Ages 5-6

At this age, young children have a stronger sense of identity and self-confidence than ever before. They start to make decisions independently, like choosing their outfits, friends and toys. They also learn to speak their mind and make their opinion known. They begin to develop better judgment, figuring out how to weigh the risks of their decisions. Young children of this age sometimes push the limits of their independence, seeing how far they can push their parents and the rules to get what they want. 

As children who are about to start kindergarten and grade school, young children at this age will be expected to handle many of their personal needs and complete tasks without one-on-one supervision and guidance. Parents can give them increasingly challenging responsibilities, like helping with household chores, grocery shopping or feeding pets. Starting a routine of completing tasks for themselves like cleaning up their toys or dishes can also help them learn responsibility. Helping them build confidence in their abilities will ensure that they are independent.

If you’d like to talk to one of our early childhood experts about your child, call/text our Birth to Five Helpline at 877-705-KIDS (5437) or visit birthtofivehelpline.org today!

All content in this article, including any advice or commentary from Southwest Human Development staff and/or others, should be considered an opinion and is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for medical or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the direct advice of your own trusted professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the child/ren in your care. Southwest Human Development does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures or other information that may be mentioned in this article. You may contact Southwest Human Development’s Birth to Five Helpline at 1-877-705-KIDS (5437) to speak with one of our early childhood professionals for personalized assistance. Birth to Five Helpline specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.