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Children have a drive to do things on their own. This is a healthy part of normal child development. As children grow, they can learn to do more and more tasks.

Child care providers can help young children become independent by allowing and encouraging them to do things by themselves whenever possible. This will mean that they learn so much from doing things for themselves. When children practice skills such as feeding and dressing themselves, they refine their large and small motor skills, gain confidence and build their self-esteem. There are four main types of skills:

  • Self-feeding.¬† Encourage children to practice feeding themselves from infancy on. Begin by offering older infants finger foods. Introduce a spoon and fork and give children plenty of time to practice. Let children be as independent as possible during mealtimes. Give them the tools they need to be successful such as child-sized utensils and small cups with handles and spouts (such as measuring cups) for pouring. Encourage children to try for themselves but provide help and encouragement when needed so they don’t get frustrated. Use clothing protectors such as a bib or smock.
  • Independent dressing and grooming. Encourage children to dress and groom by themselves; just provide minimal assistance. Begin with older infants and toddlers by encouraging them to help pull socks on and off, pull up pants after diapering and help put their arms through sleeves. As children get older, encourage them to dress themselves but help with challenging steps such as zipping and buttoning.
  • Hygiene and toileting . Look for signs of readiness for toileting. Encourage children learning to use the toilet to climb on and off the toilet seat, pull clothing up and down, and wash their hands independently. Also teach children how to brush their teeth after meals. Be ready to provide support and help if they need it.¬†Encouraging children to take care of everyday hygiene routines and to use the toilet independently helps them learn how to become more self-sufficient, and frees up your time to help children with other activities.
  • Helping with daily chores like table setting and picking up toys. Encourage children to help with clean-up early on. Give toddlers responsibility for placing napkins or utensils on the table. Encourage children to begin clearing their own plates when they are old enough to carry them without dropping them. When children are involved in regular chores starting before the age of 4, they tend to be more independent in early adulthood than children without the experience of helping out.

Life skills are worth the time and effort. The secret to success is to give children age-appropriate experiences and provide the appropriate support to help them be successful. Offer opportunities for children to develop these skills and give them ample time to work on these important tasks.