This post is by Nicole Grant
I can do it!
Both my 22-month-old and 3-year-old have been finding new ways to assert their independence lately. My toddler has mastered using a spoon, and even tries to use one to eat her sandwiches! And my preschooler is so proud that she can now reach the tap to wash her hands. It’s a joy to see their confidence grow and the thrill they get from achieving these small milestones. “I can do it!” is a phrase often heard echoing through my house. Sometimes in defiance and at times in jubilation. Either way, there is much to think about when kids become motivated to learn self care skills.
Kids learn and develop new skills through play, watching people around them, and doing. As frustrating as it is seeing a piece of toast land vegemite-side down on the floor, I realise I need to let my daughter work out for herself, that it’s easier to eat some things with your fingers, rather than a spoon. I cringe at the sight of water splashed all over the floor and soap from the dispenser dripping down the front of the bathroom cabinet, but I know that each time my daughter washes her hands, she is learning to turn the tap on just the right amount, and she is getting better at aiming the soap pump onto her hand.
As adults, we forget how long it took for us to learn to dress ourselves. It’s easy for most of us to pour a glass of juice — now we have many years experience! But it would have taken many attempts and a lot of patience from our mums before we got it right. If you are like me, you end up putting shoes and socks on for your kids because it’s quicker, brush their hair because you can do it neater, and carry their kindy bag, because you’re worried they may trip over the straps. In our efforts to be good parents, we can sometimes forget to give our kids the opportunity to ‘do’. We give them little brooms to ‘play house’ with, but the big broom is off limits because it’s dangerously pointy. We let them watch us cook, but only watch, because they might rub lemon juice in their eyes. We try to protect our kids because we love them so much, but we could possibly be depriving them of opportunities to learn.
Good judgement and a little understanding of how kids develop is important for helping your kids to help themselves. Here’s some tips:
1. Safety first always. Use your instincts as a parent to determine what your child is ready for.
2. Allow your child enough time. Don’t be tempted to jump in straight away when your child doesn’t get it right the first time. Encourage them to ask for help, when they feel they need it.
3. Demonstrate the task you are asking your child to learn and talk them through it. Be consistent in how you are performing the activity being learned. For example, put dirty clothes in the same basket each time, if you are expecting your child to learn where to put their clothes that need washing.
4. Withdraw the amount of assistance offered gradually, rather than all at once. For example, let your child fasten the velcro of their shoes, after you put them on. Once this skill is mastered, let them try putting their own shoes on. Or — peel the skin of a banana halfway down, then let them do the rest rather than handing them a whole unpeeled banana the first time.
5. Visual schedules are great for helping children to learn routine. This site is great for helping kids to learn routines for different daily activities: Visual Aids for Learning.
6. Give your child plenty of praise for even small achievements. It might seem minor to you, but to your child, brushing their teeth all by themselves like Mum or Dad, is the best thing in the world!
7. Try not to compare your child to others. Kids develop at different rates and have different strengths depending on their experiences, interests and abilities.
If you are concerned about your child’s development, you may wish to see an Occupational Therapist for advice. You can also refer to this Developmental Milestones Checklist for more information.
Nicole is a privately practicing Occupational Therapist (OT) in Brisbane, Queensland and mother to 2 beautiful girls. More information about Nicole can be found here: