Benefits of Independence at Home
Providing your child with the tools and routines for independence is helpful in a myriad of ways. The first, and likely the most important to new parents, is the way that it keeps a peaceful atmosphere present in the home. When established and implemented in the right way, the most common of struggles between parents and children disappear. The arguments about cleaning up after oneself, complaints of hunger, needing assistance to do tasks that should be done independently, all vanish.
Another way that supporting independence in the home is beneficial to parents and children include preparation for life, or, functional independence. Teaching the child from a very early age how to do the basics of supporting oneself once out of the home will benefit them in feeling confident as an adult. It's never too early to start having your child involved in the day to day responsibilities around the house. When they are very young, have them by your side or nearby while you do upkeep around the house. The best way for them to learn the importance of a task is for them to see their own parents doing the task!
One more major benefit of supporting independence for young children is the confidence they gain immediately. Being able to do for oneself builds pride and a positive self image. This confidence at home in their capabilities of what they can accomplish spills into other aspects of the child’s life. While children are still very young, they have what Maria Montessori referred to as an “absorbent mind”. What she meant by that was how the child takes in information. They soak up everything around them with minimal to no effort, just as a sponge absorbs a spill. When a child can succeed in caring for themselves, they “absorb” the feeling of pride, happiness, and accomplishment of what they can do. Without direction or knowledge of this, the child is able to direct that feeling into other areas of their life, such as meeting new friends, accomplishing academic skills, and an eagerness to take on new challenges, to name a few.
How to set the stage for Independence
So how exactly do we support independence in the home? Do we just let our children do what they want, when they want?
Please, please, please, do not let them do whatever they want, whenever they want! Young children are not yet ready for “rational” thinking or “reasoning”. They are still building up experiences in preparation for thought out, rational thinking. It is a common misconception that the Montessori classroom and that Montessori in general means “no rules” when in reality, it is very much founded on rules first, then freedom within those “limits”, as we call them in the Montessori world. Does this sound anything like the society we function in as adults?
The first thing we Montessori guides consider when we have an incoming child is how to prepare that child for life within the freedom of the classroom, as many have not experienced such freedom before coming to school. We first introduce preliminary activities, the basic actions or skills to build upon. What are the foundational things a child needs to know to be successful with their independence in the classroom? The most common preliminary activities are pouring dry goods (rice, noodles, etc), moving on to pouring water. Water is messier, so it is a step up from the dry goods. This is essential at home too because we want our children to meet their own basic needs. “If I am thirsty, I can pour my own water and meet that need for myself!” There are also preliminary social needs, such as how to stand in line, how to wait for my turn, and how to say hello to name a few. These, again, can easily be implemented at home to allow your child to be very successful when they first go out into the world by themselves, for school. Educating the child in the area of manners is what Montessroians refer to as “grace and courtesy”. This is one of the single most important areas of the early childhood environment of a Montessori classroom. These lessons will stay with them for a lifetime and have a direct impact on your child’s place and role in society. So, yeah, important. This can start very early on at home. Educating your child to be patient and cooperative with you, the parents, is the single most effective way to prepare them for being able to listen to, empathize with, and communicate with others outside the home.
After we consider these preliminary lessons, we then start to build the child's independence with activities focused on self care. Things you can focus on at home for self care are tasks such as your child putting on their own clothes, taking off their own clothes, making the bed, making a snack, and brushing teeth and hair to name a few. Young children are still very self focused, so it is most effective to start building a positive relationship to responsibility by focusing on what they can do for themselves first. As they get older, generally around four, we start to see a strong desire to be with and consider other people, as their sensitivity for social behavior and interactions begins to peak. Until then concentrate on tasks in which your child can see a direct correlation to the benefit of their independence.
The final area we focus on for building and establishing independence is care of the environment. This can have crossover form the previous focus, care of self, in areas such as putting away their own laundry. This gets expanded to folding washcloths and towels for the home, not just themselves. This step into caring for the environment will come naturally and without guidance if you have laid the groundwork for care of self. As the child masters their ability and confidence in doing things for themselves, they naturally start wanting to assist in other things around the classroom, or home in your case! Cleaning tables and helping with vacuuming are usually the first steps into the care of the environment because, well, they're fun to do! When your child begins to show interest, and you are confident that they are responsibly ready to take it on, let them take on that bigger role! They will increase their confidence and increase their functional independence. And you will feel at peace because your home is beginning to hum along.
So, how do I get started? How do I get to this utopia?
When we start this process with young children, we first work side by side. We take a turn to show them how, and then give them an opportunity to do it by themselves.
We DO NOT correct children as they are taking their first turns!
Correcting children while they are focused on doing for themselves can do two things. First, it can completely squelch their desires to be independent and cause them to be reliant on an adult for help. Second, it can cause them to believe that they are incapable of doing things by themselves, creating a lack of self confidence. That lack of self confidence can leach into other areas, just as built up confidence transcends all areas of the young child's life.
Allow your child to do it wrong. More often than not, they notice it is not like your turn, and they will try again. If you notice they are not “getting it”, another time, show them again, calling particular attention to a missed step you observed, by saying something like “now watch this!’ and doing it very slowly and deliberately.
Should you ever interrupt a child?
There are times when it is appropriate. I go by the “3 D’s”. If what they are doing is disruptive, destructive, or dangerous, stop them. Simply say, with empathy, “I see you are not ready” and redirect them to something different that you know they are successful with. The young child naturally wants to do things for themselves, and the simple consequence of not being able to do for themselves, is the most effective consequence. Stopping them the first time they may do one of these “3 D’s” is also informing them of the household expectation of how they are to treat the people and the things in the home. There is no need to give multiple opportunities when it comes to one of the “3 D’s” and in fact waiting too long can cause you to get absent and over react, making it personal for you rather than simply a sign your child is not yet ready.
Are you ready to execute?
So, start simple, and start encouraging your child to be independent! You know your child and what they are capable of. Meet them at their readiness level and slowly increase the challenge, allowing them more and more freedoms. Remember to set clear guidelines of your expectation. Allow your children to make mistakes, stopping them only for one of the “3 D’S” and see how much they can learn for themselves, all while building confidence, functional independence, and peace in your home!