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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.