Learning

Independence day!

As children approach school age, they need – and want – to grow in independence. Many children are good to go, but others may benefit from a little encouragement. Check out our expert advice.

Published

Every child is different and a ‘one size fits all’ approach often doesn’t work. But research suggests that children first begin to assert their independence between the ages of four and six years. At this stage, they’re also busy forming real friendships and developing important life skills.

Oceans* have put together some parenting tips to help you encourage your four to six-year-old to become more independent.

It’s thought that growing and encouraging self-feeding skills is as important as the food they eat.

Self feeding

It’s crucial to understand how valuable this step is in your child’s development. It’s thought that growing and encouraging self-feeding skills is as important as the food they eat.

At age four, your child should begin developing self-feeding skills that include eating with a fork and using it to prick items.

Between the ages of five and six, children should be able to butter their own bread as well as use a knife (that isn’t super sharp!) to cut food items such as vegetables and meat.

Try to be patient during this period and accept the fact that mess is almost guaranteed. Let them explore new skills and gain an understanding of how things work – practice makes perfect!

Going to the toilet alone

For parents, putting the nappies to one side is a huge milestone, and one that really signifies your child’s independence.

Understanding how to wipe their own bottom with little or no help from an adult should develop between the ages of three and five, and there are steps you can take to make sure that they reach this milestone.

Help them to understand good sitting balance, how to fold the toilet roll and the correct wiping motion. The most significant step in this toilet training adventure is to teach them how to know when they’re completely clean.

Chores

It may seem like a child of four or even six is too young to start doing tasks around the house, but it’ll benefit them in the long run. Teaching your child about the importance of various chores is a powerful way to foster responsibility, independence and self-reliance.

Making their bed, emptying paper bins, and pulling weeds are all suitable chores for a child aged four to six. At first, suggest they shadow you to see how it’s done properly, and then encourage them to do the same without supervision.

Brushing teeth

By four years old, children should be brushing their teeth both morning and night – but stay around while they do it. To help them succeed, brush your teeth alongside them so they can see the correct process.

If you’re struggling to keep them engaged with the activity, let them pick their own toothbrush and toothpaste so that they feel more in control, and consider giving out a reward each time they do the job well and with minimal fuss.

Brushing should still be supervised during ages five and six to ensure the teeth have been properly cleaned.

Support without handholding

During these crucial stages, you might find it a little hard to let go – and that’s completely understandable! But try your best to resist the urge to ‘hold their hand’ through each process, even if you think they need it. You can support them in other ways, including giving praise and rewards and setting a good example.

Making mistakes is a key opportunity to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills

Let them fail

Mistakes are going to happen one way or another, so as long as they don’t cause your child danger you might as well just let them. It’s impossible to protect them from failure, and it isn’t a good idea to try, either. Making mistakes is a key opportunity to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and they’ll naturally get better at each task the more they do it.

Praise effort

This journey is as overwhelming for your child as it is for you, so be generous with your praise and make sure it’s given when it’s due. Verbal praise is powerful, letting children know that you’re proud of their efforts and delighted with the outcome. But you could also give rewards in the shape of a trip to their favourite restaurant, a new toy, or even just a sticker.

You’ve got this!

One minute children are in nappies with gummy smiles and completely dependent on you; the next they’re marching around the house doing things for themselves. It can be daunting for parents, but this is a natural step in development that will help kids become better, stronger people in the future.

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