One of the best things you can do for your child—and yourself—is to teach your child to become more independent. Not only will this give him or her confidence and instill a sense of adventure (a tame one, hopefully), but it will make your life easier: a child who wants to put his own clothes on in the morning or make himself a snack for school means you have 15 more minutes of time and 15 minutes worth of precious energy to devote to other tasks.
Here are several ways you can help your child become more independent at home, in school, and in life.
1. Provide safety in uncertain situations
Some children jump into new experiences or meet new people willingly, and some are more hesitant. If your child is being shy, adjust your expectations for her behavior. Don’t get annoyed if she clings to your leg when you show up to her first dance class; let her sit on your lap for the first class—or even the first two or three classes. If you refrain from pushing her, this gives her the space to get comfortable with the idea of something new and in time she’ll find the confidence to engage in the activity.
2. Teach him to express his opinions
Encourage your child to talk. Talk to him about his day and ask him about his opinion on things. Listen to his answer. When he asks you “Why…?”, explain the answer to him as simply as possible. Let him listen to adult conversations (as long as they’re not too adult, of course) and have family dinners when you can. Let him join the conversation if he wants; acknowledge his opinions and don’t put them down.
3. Give your 3-year-old (and 4-, 5- and 6-year old) simple tasks
A 3-year-old can put away his toys—perhaps with your help. Make a game of it and put on a song and see if you can get everything put away by the time the songs ends. At 3 he can also help set the table for the family, although he might need help with silverware. He can also dust, wash the table, and even mop if you squeeze the mop out for him. Put those little hands to work and help your child gradually become more self-reliant.
4. Make time for her to do tasks herself
If it takes 10 minutes for her to prepare her morning snack for school, then wake her up 10 minutes earlier. This may take some time: she may stall or it may take her a while to master the task. But when you’re not hovering over her or pressuring her to do something herself, she may surprise you with how well she cooperates.
5. Praise him
Ok, so he put the shoes on the wrong feet, but instead of pointing out the mistake, praise him for putting his own shoes on. He’ll probably figure it out on his own. You can respond with something like, “I’m sure you’ll put them on the right feet tomorrow!”