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It’s Time: Why Preschoolers Need Independence and How to Encourage It

“I can do it myself!” Every parent of a preschooler has heard those words. Preschoolers can vary from minute to minute on their need for independence. They may want to cook their own breakfast one morning, but can’t be bothered to get a juice box out of the fridge at lunchtime. Parents have to perform a careful balance of ensuring their child knows about safety rules and limits with encouraging them to become more independent. In the long run, however, encouraging independence benefits both the child and the parent. One of the best ways to encourage self-sufficiency is through age-appropriate chores. With proper preparation and boundaries there are many things preschoolers can help with. Here are four suggestions.

Helping to Take Care of the Family Pet

Filling water bowls, walking the dog, giving pets a bath – there are so many responsibilities that preschoolers can take on when caring for a pet. Make sure your child is supervised during these chores and consider using a little grown-up preparation to ensure that the chores are done correctly. For instance, when feeding the family fish, create pre-portioned bags or bowls of food so that your child will not overfeed the pet. Also, explain that if the fish gets more than that it needs, it might make him sick. To make filling a water bowl easier provide them with a small plastic pitcher near the bowl that will also help keep messes to a minimum. The added benefit of allowing your child to help with family pet is that they learn about compassion and caring for others; so, it is worth the extra little effort.

Making Breakfast

Though this might conjure nightmarish visions of fires and injuries, if proper limitations are set and prep work is completed then it is completely safe. Reorganize your kitchen so there are no-cook breakfast options your child can easily reach. These can include cereals, bread, peanut butter and child-safe utensils. In the fridge, fruit that does not require peeling or cutting (like grapes) and a no-spill cup of milk, juice or water should be placed within their reach. Discuss with your child what appropriate breakfast food is (i.e. candy is not ok), and if they ask to use appliances like the microwave tell them you will teach them when they are older.

Filling the Bath and Bathing

To make this a safe activity, make sure your home’s hot water heater is set to 120°F or below so there’s no chance of your child getting burned. Once this has been done, it’s safe to let your child help you fill the tub under supervision. You may also want limit them to turning on the cold water while you adjust the hot. Encourage them to wash their body and hair on their own or with a little help, but remember you should always supervise them during the bath.

Buckling Themselves Into Their Booster.

This is something that many preschoolers want to do on their own. Explain to your child that they can, but you need to check to make sure it is safe after they have finished. If you are not sure what to look for, review this handy checklist here. They can also unbuckle themselves as long as they understand that this is only done when the engine is off. Remind them to never do it while the car is moving.

The most important thing to encouraging your child’s independence is to communicate the good job they did. Encouragement is important in successfully handing over independence to your child. They should never feel like they failed. If they did not manage to get done with a chore, recognize that they tried their best and they shouldn’t feel discouraged. Remember as with any new skill learning independence takes time and it is our jobs as caretakers to have patience and encourage them through the struggles.
Helping children grow in their independence, confidence, and learning is part of what Tender Year’s teachers do on a daily basis. It is probably why so many Central Pennsylvania parents have chosen Tender Years Child Development Center for their children.