In the final week of September, we shared the first in a series of excerpts from “Practical Wisdom for Parents,” a bestselling 2008 book on early childhood by Nancy Schulman, head of the Early Learning Center at Avenues New York and Ellen Birnbaum, director of New York’s 92nd Street y Kindergarten. In that excerpt, Nancy and Ellen described the importance of cultivating self-help skills and independence in young children—with full acknowledgement that for parents, challenging a toddler to help his or herself can sometimes feel counter-intuitive.
艾伦•波恩鲍姆和南希•舒尔曼 Ellen Birnbaum and Nancy Schulman
second excerpt is a continuation of the first and comes from the same chapter, titled “Self-Help Skills and Independence: ‘I Want to Do It Myself!’” Below, you will find nine pieces of advice from Nancy and Ellen on how to ensure that your child develops a healthy amount of independence at a young age.
1. Maintain Consistent Expectation
When teaching self-help skills, it’s important that all of the adults in your child’s life have consistent expectations. If the babysitter is still spoon-feeding your child while you’re encouraging him to use his own spoon to eat cereal, he’ll be receiving very confusing messages. You’ll need to check in with relatives, teachers, and caregivers on a regular basis to tell them about your child’s progress and find out what they’ve observed. All the adults in your child’s life need to feel confident that he can move to the next level and that with a little help and encouragement, he’ll quickly adapt.
2. Break it Down
The simplest self-help skill can seem immensely complicated to a small child and it helps enormously if you break it down into small components. Think about how hard it is to put on a pair of shoes. You have to match your foot to the right shoe. You have to understand that the sock goes on first. You have to begin to understand the concept of left and right. You have to use your fingers to open up the shoe to make room for your foot. You have to figure out what it feels like when the wrong shoe is on the wrong foot. You have to switch the shoes around to try again. It’s a conundrum that may take many weeks for a young child to solve. When you teach him bit by bit – sock first, then open the shoe, then slide inside – he’ll gradually gain the confidence and the dexterity to complete the task.
3. Be Patient
When teaching your child self-help skills, it’s important to set aside time and to be patient. It can often take many weeks before your child accomplished a seemingly simple task. You can support him by allowing him to struggle a little while complimenting him to his attempts. If the task does seem to difficult, you can suggest a way to work through it together and ask him to make suggestions. This way he can feel successful, his self-esteem will build, and he’ll try again the next time.
4. Resist the Temptation to Do It for Your Child
It can be hard for parents to break the habit of doing things for a child. One morning, three-year-old Molly arrived at the nursery school and, rather than taking her coat off and putting it on the hook, she dramatically let it fall to the floor. Her well-meaning parent bent over and scooped it up and put it on her hook. The message to Molly was loud and clear: “You don’t have to do it. You can’t do it. I’ll do it for you.” If you do something because it’s easier for you, it sends the message that you don’t think your child is capable and this can actually undermine his confidence in his own abilities.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Let Your Child Fail
It’s okay to let your child try to do something for himself, even if this means he fails in the beginning. When we see a child coming to school with his pants or shirt on backward, we never criticize that child or his parents. We know that he dressed himself and that his parents gave him the benefit of learning from his attempts.
6. Send a Positive, Empowering Message to Your Child
It’s very important to keep encouraging your child, even when you’re feeling exasperated. When your child wets himself for the fifth time today, the natural reaction is one of despair. However, when you smile, use positive expressions, and remain upbeat – even when your child isn’t succeeding – you ensure that your child doesn’t become discouraged or ashamed.
7. Don’t Give Up
Often we’ll hear parents say, “I tried to get my child to do that, but it didn’t work.” Trying once or twice isn’t enough. It can take weeks of practice and repetition to master the most basic skills. Expect resistance – your child won’t always want to do these things alone. Don’t give up. You need to be clear in your expectations and communicate that this accomplishment is important. When you stick with it, eventually you’ll see results.
8. Try Not to Take Steps Backward
It’s very important that you set goals and stick to them. Once you have made a decision to move forward, try not to take steps backwards as you’ll only be sending a confusing message. Once you’ve decided to have your child giveup the bottle, don’t be tempted to go back, even when he’s crying and whining. This will pass.
9. Keep Raising the Bar
Every few months, it’s important to reevaluate your expectations for your child and raise the bar ever so slightly to support his growth. When he begins to use a fork, maybe it’s time for him to start drinking from a cup. If your child has been undressing himself every night before bath time, it’s time to start teaching him how to put on his pajamas. Keep stepping it up. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of behavior where you applaud his accomplishments thus far, forgetting that he’s capable of much, much more.