We know that children who enter preschool and the early years of grade school with good social skills have a better academic outlook than those who don’t. My letters over the past few weeks have explained how parents can help their child become socially competent. However, there is one item I haven’t covered—independence.
Independence is a bit tricky. When a parent doesn’t allow enough independence, a child may have their capabilities smothered. Too much independence, on the other hand, is sometimes a sign of parental neglect. Independence means different things in different cultures and it needs to be measured against each child’s ability. Due to this complexity, I will address only the independence needed to succeed in preschool and kindergarten.
At school, a child needs to be able to take care of his own physical needs. Using the bathroom includes the skills of getting pants up and down, wiping, and washing one’s hands. Children need to be independent in knowing when and how to blow their noses and to dispose of tissue in a sanitary way. Many preschools have children brush their teeth after snacks and meals, so children need to be independent with toothbrushing. Children also need to be independent at snack and meal time as well. They need to open bags, put straws in juice boxes, take care of containers sent from home, and clean up after themselves. In addition, children need to manage their outerwear, shoes and socks.
As every parent and teacher knows, independence skills don’t happen overnight, nor are many children proficient in all independence skills in the first year of preschool. Children develop these skills because their parents, babysitters, and teachers slow down and help them learn and practice skills one step at a time. There are many opportunities throughout the day to practice each skill, and practice really does make perfect.
One might not think of asking for help as an independence skill, but as a teacher, I have witnessed many children frozen because they need help but do not know how to get it. Parents teach this skill by modeling it. When modeling a skill, say to your child what you are doing and why. For example, at the store Dad might say to his child “I can’t find the laundry soap. I think I will have to ask someone.” The dad does and then reinforces the point by saying after he has found the soap “I’m so glad I asked for the help.” At home Mom might be working on a project and say “I don’t know how this should go together. I’m really stuck until I get some help. I think I will call and ask my friend if she can help me.” Once the problem is solved, Mom follows up by pointing out that she found the help she needed and was able to finish the project.
Helping your child develop the independence skills needed for school takes time and patience. The payoff is a child who is confident, competent, and does well in school.
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.