Fostering Independence

by | May 21, 2021

It’s a familiar situation for all of us: A child walks up to us with an unzipped jacket and asks for help getting it closed. Our response to this question is vitally important. Do we save the time and the energy and zip their jacket for them, or do we insist that the child do it themselves? Let’s first look at scenario number one. We, as the adult, simply zip the jacket for them. The problem is solved in seconds and both the child and adult are ready to move on with their day. It is important to remember that while the problem of the unzipped coat was quickly solved, the adult in the situation has created myriad residual problems. That child’s mindset is now “[Adult] zips up my jacket way better than I ever could! I should expect help from them every time.” 

Let’s now look at scenario number two. The adult refuses to do this task for the child, insisting that they can do it themselves. This response may create more short-term problems, such as an argument, crisis, or maybe even a very cold child walking to school with an unzipped jacket. But the long-term benefits of this scenario are far too important. Allowing your child to complete their own tasks will have a significant positive impact on their confidence, fine motor skills, and independence. This may require a change in your schedule to allot time for these initial struggles. Do you need to wake up 15 minutes earlier to allow them to dress themselves? The extra 15 minutes of sleep may seem like the priority some days, but allowing your child to build their skill set must trump that. It will save you time and energy in the future. 

Activities of Daily Living: Age-expected Skills Your Child Should Be Doing on Their Own

These skills can seem overwhelming when looking at them together, but not all skills must be mastered at once. We recommend prioritizing the tasks your child may have not have mastered at the expected age; for example, if your child is eight and has not yet tied their shoes independently, this may be a good place to start.   

The hardest part of this is sticking to the plan you make. If you decide that it is time for your child to start tying their own shoes, you should be dedicated to never tying your child’s shoes again. I’m not saying that you should expect this to be easy, but having high expectations is a form of love. Every time you refuse to tie your child’s shoes, you are telling them that you believe in them and that you care about their growth and development. 


Strategies for Fostering Independence with ADL

Your child may need visual reminders and rubrics to help them learn a new skill or stick to a new routine. Create visual aids and display them prominently in the appropriate locations.  Is your child not washing their dish properly? Take pictures of every step of the process and hang them above the sink.

Another form of a visual example is to model the task for them. Ask them to watch you wash your dish as you explain each step out loud, before washing their own. Dictate each step you take when tying your own shoes before they tie theirs. If your child needs additional support, go through the steps together side by side. Just make sure that you don’t touch their dish. That’s their responsibility. 

Sticking with this plan may result in some unwanted scenarios, but it’s important to remember that it is all part of the process. Yes, your child may come to school in a mismatched outfit or have the same spilled yogurt in their lunchbox for a week, but these will be learning opportunities. Maybe your child will discover their own personal style through trial and error. Maybe your child will discover that cleaning up moldy yogurt is a lot worse than cleaning a fresh spill. No matter what lesson is learned in that moment, it is worth it. 

If you take one thing away from reading this, I want it to be this: Doing an expected task for your child will only teach them that you can do it better than they can. Trust your child. Trust the process and whatever you do… Do not tie their shoes. 


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