I’ve been a teacher for 20 years now and while I’ve watched students come and grow and then leave my classrooms, I’ve often asked parents what they did to create those students who strived to do their best (no matter what their achievement level), who were (almost) always polite and considerate of others and who followed instructions and did what they ‘should’ regardless of what they really wanted to do. I don’t think any parent ever gave me a real answer so now that I’m a parent I am just making it up as I go (aren’t we all?). I have also revised my expectations from working with adolescents (like I do in my day job) to raising toddlers and young preppies (like I do every other minute of every day). So here is my experience and my advice:
What does self reliant mean?
When I talk of self reliance in children I mean:
- self ability
- self motivation
- self confidence
In summary, many of the things we desire our children to grow up with.
So how to you raise self reliant children?
In short, you teach them to do things for themselves.
You don’t do everything for them, forever.
You let them feel all the emotions – joy, anger, sadness, fear, frustration, excitement and many more.
You love them and give them security so they grow with confidence.
What else have I missed? Probably quite a few things.
It would take so many blog posts to cover all of these things, and I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in all of them, or professionally trained in these aspects of child development, but I can tell you what is working with my children.
What does that mean practically?
The part I’m going to focus on here is how to get your kids to be able to do things for themselves. Even this concept can be massive so I’m going to break it down even further to getting kids to do jobs (called chores in other countries) around the house from a young age.
Picking up after themselves
From a very young age (even less than 1 years old) kids can pick up toys. In fact we encourage them to do so to improve their fine motor skills. All you need to do is provide them with a basket or box to put them into and demonstrate how it is done. It also helps if you make it look like fun by repeating a word in a fun way as you put each toy into the box. I suggest a word they can easily learn to say at that age such as “done” rather than something difficult like “away”. Think Mary Poppins helping Jane and Michael clean up the nursery but using your hands instead of clicking your fingers. The most important part of this is your positive encouragement. A cheer every time they put something away in to the basket goes a long way to giving them the motivation to do it again.
Once they can walk well (somewhere between 1 and 2 years old) they can easily carry unbreakable plates, cups and cutlery from the table (or highchair) into the kitchen for you. The logistics you need to consider here are will you let them do it when there is still cereal left in the bowl or still milk left in the cup. That depends on how much mess you can tolerate. But I’d love for you to see this as a great learning opportunity to show them messes are part of normal life and then teach them how to clean them up. By the time they are 3 they should be able to get a cloth and mop up spilt water or milk off the floor. They won’t be able to do this unless you teach them. High fives all round once it is cleaned up.
Cooking and baking
This is always a hard one to teach your kids because from when they’re a young age you try to do a lot of this when they are sleeping because it’s easier and faster. But naturally, there will come a time (maybe when you have an awake toddler and sleeping baby) or simply when they awake most of the day, that they will become interested in watching and helping you cook or bake or prepare the evening meal. It can be very frustrating because it slows the process down immensely but this is the very beginning of your teaching opportunity to ensure you raise kids that can cook for themselves (and for the rest of the family one day).
As soon as they are stable enough on a stool they can hold non-sharp things for you in the kitchen. Think wooden spoons, whisks, bowls. Make sure everything they could spill or break is out of their reach (open milk bottles, flour jars, eggs etc) and then calmly direct them how to help you. Teach them words like “slow” by showing them the difference between fast and slow. Teach them early numbers by counting together as you crack eggs into the bowl or add cups of flour. Once they want to start cracking their own eggs make sure you have a separate bowl for them to do that into so you can clearly see all the shell to pick it out before adding it to the main bowl.
From the age of about 2 years old they should have the fine motor skills to start practicing using a knife. Get your hands on a kids safe knife and give them their own cutting board and some things to cut for dinner – think celery, tomatoes, cucumber, mushrooms etc. Let them do their own while you manage the harder things such as potatoes, pumpkin and the meat. As always they have been watching you do it for a while but make sure you show them and use plenty of words like “down” and “fingers flat” or “fingers tucked in” and give them plenty of positive encouragement along the way.
This is an area where there always seems to be never-ending work once you’re a parent. I think in my case it is because it took a back seat for while and came last on my priority list. But once the kids were old enough to help I loved being able to get back out there and clean up the garden beds together. Once they are old enough not to try to eat every plant and dirt they pick up they can start being taught what to do in the garden. Teach them about the insects and birds that use your garden for food – search for snails, grasshoppers and bugs while you’re out there. Teach them the difference between plants and weeds – by the time they are 4 or 5 years old you will be having discussions (due to the endless “why” questions) about why we don’t want weeds in our garden and teaching them to pull them out by the roots, not just the leaves. Get them their own gardening gloves and maybe even gumboots depending on how muddy your yard gets. These are great motivation tools for kids – maybe get yourself a matching pair of gloves because we need a bit of motivational support too.
I’m talking cleaning here, not tidying. This is an area I’ve talked about many times before but just to recap, I firmly believe that kids should be helping out with the cleaning from a very early age. That’s one of the reasons I started making kid-safe cleaning products – so they could help me clean the house without me worrying about them using any dangerous chemicals. Like with the cooking, when they’re babies this is a job we try to do when they’re sleeping but as they get older we run out of time to do everything while they’re sleeping and increasingly need to do our household jobs when they’re awake, and invariably they want to help us do them. Every time they ask to help you do something, I challenge you to say “yes” and then figure out a way for them to safely help you.
When they first start cleaning, windows are a good place to start. Let’s face it, they are the ones making them filthy with their grubby little hand prints everywhere. You can spray the window and let them use a cloth to scrub it clean. Give them a cloth to wipe the table down with after a meal (yes, I know the table needs a clean after every single meal). It doesn’t matter if you have to do it again afterwards when they’re first learning, but just a warning – they will get to an age (or an awareness) when they don’t like you doing it again after they’ve done it so you’ll have to learn to be a bit sneaky or wait until later or learn to live with a less than perfect cleaning job.
Setting the table and preparing a meal
As with everything this one starts early. Once they can walk they can carry unbreakable and non-sharp things to the table in preparation for a meal. When they’re learning to count ask them to count out 4 forks and 4 cups. Once they are able they might be able to fill those cups with water and carry them to the table one at a time. In regards to preparing a meal get them started with something simple like morning tea or afternoon tea. They can help by counting out their plates, choosing the fruit from the fridge, counting out grapes onto a plate, using their kid safe knife to cut the grapes if they still need that and counting some biscuits out of the cupboard.
So when will they be ready?
- when they ask to help you
- when they are physically able to do it, even if they make mistakes.
This is not a competition. It doesn’t matter if another child can set the table already and yours doesn’t. Your child mind help you in the garden earlier. It all depends on the things you love doing and your child takes an interest in. Everything will happen along the way when the time is right.
What will hold you back
- waiting until you think they will do a perfect job
- worrying about things being spilt or more mess happening
- assuming they will just hurt themselves
- focussing on the extra time things will take to get done
Telling yourself stories like this will hold you back from letting your child take over some control over things at home. The earlier you start letting them help you with things, the better and more often they will help you when they’re older (we are not talking teenagers here, they are a whole different ball game). Even when they refuse to help you sometimes you will know that they know how to do it and when they’re much older and living away from home (god forbid we think of that) they will be self reliant.