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What does an independent preschooler actually look like? 

They think they can tie their shoes without help, but you and I both know that's not the case. So how can you know the appropriate amount of independence to allow our children to have?

At a preschool age, there are key signs that a child is on the right track to becoming an independent, confident adult. For example, an independence preschooler will separate easily from their parents. They feel confident and self-assured to know that they will be okay without them present at all times. The independent child trusts their parents enough to believe that they are being left in a completely safe environment.

The independent preschooler will be a good decision maker. If you've fostered age appropriate independence, your child has been given the opportunity to make certain decisions on their own. Because they are allowed this freedom, independent children tend to be intrinsically motivated as well. To encourage this, parents of independent children limit extrinsic rewards.

So what can you do to continue fostering independence once your preschooler leaves the classroom?

  • Let your child make mistakes. Give your child a moment to be independent, and if they continue to struggle with the task, jump in to save the day.

  • Dedicate uninterrupted time for your child's tasks. It's no secret - it will take your child longer to brush their teeth by themselves than if you do it for them. If it takes ten minutes for them to brush their teeth (as opposed to your three minutes), factor that in to your morning and bedtime routine.

  • Provide items to make independence easier for your child. A simple step stool can enable your child to reach to wash their hands on their own, or help at the counter when they want to join mom's cooking show one night. It's a simple effort that can go a long way.

  • Remember to negotiate once in a while. Some days, your child may refuse to do things for themselves. They may be tired, cranky, or simply not in the mood. They may want you to do everything. When this happens though, it's okay to negotiate. "I'll help with one shoe if you do the other."

  • Negotiating is good, but some day, your preschooler may not be able to make decisions. And that's okay too. Know that some days, your child may not feel well, or maybe, didn’t get enough sleep. It’s okay to help them when they aren’t feeling themselves. Everyone needs help now and then.

  • Provide choices on a daily basis, but limit the number of choices so it is not overwhelming. For a snack, give them a choice of apples or oranges instead of opening the whole pantry for them to choose from.

  • Don't be afraid to admit when you are micromanaging or "over" helping your child. It happens all the time, but it's best to be honest with yourself.. and your child. Even the littlest ones can feel bothered when you step in too much to help. If this happens, simply step back and say, "I forgot what a big kid you are. I know you can do this yourself!"

  • And most importantly, remember to praise them! Praise them for all they do by themselves. High five for opening their own juice box. Thumbs up for putting on their own shoes. Hugs for putting on their own hat or jacket or mittens. When you praise your child for their accomplishments, you will see the smile on their face and the pride in their eyes.

The gift of independence is invaluable to a child. Watching them learn and grow to become a confident, self-assured young adult is rewarding to a parent as well. Help your child achieve age-appropriate independence now so that they may reap the rewards later in life.

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