By Emily Harper,
Research shows that children who are trained to be independent from a young age develop a greater desire to succeed in school. They also have greater chances at reaching their dreams. As important a trait as independence may be, parents are often at a loss on how to properly foster the virtue. This is especially true for first-time parents. Many are worried about displeasing their young kids and causing unwanted bitterness. Training your child to be independent does not have to be a contentious process though, especially as your baby already has a natural tendency to assert his self-reliance. Read on for tips that surprisingly only require going along with your child’s natural inclinations.
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Allow your child to break eye contact
Instilling independence in your child can be as simple as looking away when he attempts to assert his autonomy. A child’s attempt to assert his independence can start at a very young age. You would notice your young infant showing signs of self-determination when she turns away from your stare. This behavior is called the “gaze aversion.” Breaking eye contact is one of the infant’s earliest attempts to take control of his/her surroundings. Once you’ve learned to recognize this behavior as a bid for autonomy, you can respond in ways that would actually encourage your child’s sense of self-reliance. Allow your little one to break eye contact, so s/he can feel a degree of power, however limited it may be.
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Be responsive and supportive
As early as their first few months, infants already start to intentionally and actively control their environment. They smile and Daddy smiles back, they cry and Mommy starts feeding them, and they throw a toy and big sister goes to pick it up. These behaviors may appear to be the opposite of self-reliance, but responding lovingly and positively to the smiles, cries, and jettisoned toys can reinforce the infant’s perception that it is well within his ability to affect the world around him. This perception becomes the bedrock of a healthy self-esteem, which is an essential component of self-reliance.
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Graciously accept rejection
Another way infants make a bid for control is by turning away from the bottle, breast or a spoonful of rice cereal. As any parent of a 6-month-old infant would know, it can be extremely frustrating to be confronted with pursed lips during feeding time. One thing most parents are not aware of though is that it is worse to insist that the infant eats. Before your baby could crawl or walk, turning away efforts to feed is one of the means by which he asserts volition. Avoiding imposition of the spoon lets parents respect their child’s dignity. Keep in mind that you are responsible for providing a healthy diet, not forcing your child to eat.
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Allow your baby to fall asleep on his own
Infants are able to take an early but huge step toward gaining independence when he learns to fall asleep on his own. You can encourage your baby to form the habit at about six months old, an age when the stomach can hold enough food to last the infant for most, if not throughout, the night. Once your infant is feeding less frequently, falling asleep and waking up on her own will become easier. Babies are much more capable of calming themselves than you would realize. If your child has gotten used to falling asleep on your shoulder or lap or while feeding on a bottle, it may be wise to start weaning him of that dependence. Your goal is to be able to place your baby in the crib right before s/he’s deep in slumber so s/he could fall asleep on her/his own. More than just the value of a calm bedtime, allowing your baby to form the habit of snoozing solo will have her/him learning to comfort her/himself without your or a bottle’s help, showing a degree of self-reliance.
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Be able to take “n” for an answer
During toddler years, major muscle development and accelerated mobility combine with a deep curiosity about the world. This leads to an almost unceasing exploration. You will notice that even infants who have been relatively compliant are suddenly recalcitrant and overly squirmy. Oftentimes, you will get a “no!” from your child whenever you ask a question. You might even find yourself longing for the days when all that your baby ever did was lie on his back and make gurgling sounds. Do not mistake his actions for defiance though, as your baby is merely experimenting with independence.
Toddlerhood is essentially your child’s first adolescence. It is a time when kids are trying to separate themselves from their parents. Avoid resisting too much. As long as your toddler’s health or safety is not compromised, feel free to let her/him call the shots. Not only will your child get his taste of self-determination, you will also be able to avoid a senseless shouting match. If you feel that you must oppose your baby’s wishes, make sure you do so in a calm and straightforward manner. It will also be best if you could acknowledge your child’s objection without caving in.
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Promote freedom, but set firm limits
Confidence lies at the roots of independence, and fuzzy boundaries can threaten a child’s confidence. To foster independence in toddlers, you must be willing to set firm limits. These strict limits provide children with a strong sense of security and stability. It helps when they know exactly where they stand. During their toddler years, most rules you impose will be safety-related. When a rule is broken, immediately remove your baby from the activity and firmly remind her/him of the rule. While eager to assert her/his independence, your baby will be comforted by the idea that s/he still has someone to rely on to stay in charge.
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Let him be
As babies grow a little older, their attention span improves. By the time they are about 2 years old, toddlers would already have become capable of amusing themselves without you for brief periods. Encourage this ability. Leave your child alone when he’s absorbed in an activity. If you notice him fussing over something, make sure that he’s okay, but wait it out a little before responding. Remember to offer praises every time he’s happily played alone.
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Let him succeed
To help your child revel in his independence and not resent your efforts, make sure you guide your child toward activities that increase his chances of success. A child who repeatedly experiences failures can end up feeling discouraged. For one, you can encourage your young child to pour her/his own juice from a small, unbreakable container instead of a huge glass pitcher. Getting your child involved in simple household chores is also highly advisable, as it works great at fostering a sense of accomplishment and responsibility.
Effectively fostering independence in your child will go a long way in ensuring success in his own future endeavors. This is definitely worthy of your attention and efforts.