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encouraging independent children

Part of the natural course of being a parent is guiding our children to develop independence in daily routine activities. From toilet training to getting dressed, making beds to making breakfast, we guide our children in the understanding of sequences of routines. This ultimately enables them to be independent young people who feel positively about their abilities to manage tasks for themselves.

There are many routines built into a day. There is a sequence of morning activities required before leaving the house for school. And at the end of the day there is a sequence of activities which are performed in the lead up to getting into bed for sleep.

For young children the number of tasks required to be completed can be overwhelming. There are many micro routines within larger routines which require teaching and practice before they become second nature.

Some children pick up on what is expected of them more naturally than others. So that within a family you may have one brilliant little helper and one constantly dragging the chain. For all children there are some things we should consider when we are fostering independence in routines:

  • Take the time to teach

o      Talk through the steps of a new task

o      Show your child the easiest way to do something

o      Allow children the time to try things for themselves. This can often be difficult for parents to do in our busy lives, but is so important for our little ones.

  •  Choose one or two new tasks at a time

o      There are times when children will be required to learn a series of new tasks at once such as when toilet training times or starting school. They can be busy enough coping with these new experiences so it might not be the time to also focus on cutlery skills or riding bikes. Some children would cope with this, but others really do need new skills to be spread out over time.

  •  Allow time for practise

o      Choose the time of day which is generally more relaxed within your household to allow practise for new tasks such as getting dressed. This might be better to practise first of an evening when getting into pyjamas rather than during a busy school morning.

  •  Provide feedback

o      This can refer to visual feedback such as having access to a full mirror so your child can check their clothes to make sure they are on straight or that their hair is brushed neatly.

o      Feedback also means giving them praise for a job well done, or well attempted. Hugs and positive statements are often all that is needed for children to be motivated to work towards the next step of independence.

  • Structure activities to allow success in early stages

o      This might mean laying out required clothes so they can dress or handing them the knives and forks for them to then place on the table.

o      It might involve doing the first part of an activity but then allowing them to finish the task so they have the sense of completion.

  •  Find the easiest way

o      Sometimes there are different ways to achieve the same outcome. Using a spatula to spread butter can be easier than a knife, pulling the shirt over the head first can be easier than putting arms in first, but both ways will work just fine.

  •  Provide guidelines

o      Some children are more visual learners than others and thrive on structured guidance. This might involve a picture chart of the various steps involved in a task or in a series of routine events.

  •  Consider support at times of change

o      When changes happen at home or school, children can regress in their abilities or just need some extra support for things they used to be able to do. As parents our role is to be flexible in guiding and supporting our children towards independence.

Teaching routines and complex tasks to children may feel time intensive and sometimes frustrating. However one day parents may look back on the years and marvel at the independent and self assured little people they have had the honour of raising.

Magnetic Moves provides visual activity and routine charts to help children through this learning curve. Take a look at their product range stocked by It Makes Sense.

Who is Magnetic Moves?

Robyn Sims, co-director of Magnetic Moves and paediatric OT who works in private practice with many children with sensory challenges.

Joanne Larcom, co-director of Magnetic Moves and Mum to four beautiful children, one of whom has sensory processing challenges.