Fortunately for parents, kids are usually self-motivated to become independent at a young age. You probably wrestled your 1-year-old into his car seat a time or two or found your 2-year-old proud as a peacock dressed in backwards clothing and shoes. When your child grows into the preschool years, he is completely capable of gaining even more independence on everyday tasks. Although it can be exasperating as your child yells, "I can do it!" when you're already five minutes late, it's your job as a parent to show him how it's done and encourage him every step of the way.
Model the activity or task. Don't assume your preschooler knows how to clean up his room, brush his teeth or get dressed in weather-appropriate clothing. Show him exactly how to do the task by breaking it down into simple steps. If you're teaching him how to brush his teeth without your help, show him each step: toothpaste on brush, light circular motion on each tooth, rinse and repeat. Take a picture of him completing each step to create a fun visual reminder to post in the bathroom. With proper guidance, a preschooler can make his own toast for breakfast, get dressed, pick up his toys or feed the family pet.
Support your child. Although the ultimate goal is independence for your preschooler -- and you -- be there for guidance and support during the initial stages of learning. Be careful, Mom: that does not mean that you stand there tapping your toe and checking your watch as he spends five minutes to get the toothpaste on the brush. If you know he can do it, refrain from stepping in. Be there to remind him of the steps or to clarify misunderstanding, not to do it for him. When time is an issue, plan carefully to allow your preschooler enough time to succeed.
Encourage and praise your preschooler. When your child feels like he can't do it, he will be more apt to give up unless you are there providing encouragement. Remember when he was potty training and the entire family erupted into the potty dance when the tinkle went into the toilet? It's the same concept. Praise and encourage him every time he completes a task. Tell him you are so proud of him for being a big boy or that you are impressed that he can do the same things Mom and Dad can do.
Don't expect perfection. Your preschooler probably isn't going to remember to put short-sleeved shirts in the top drawer and long sleeves in the bottom, but when he makes the effort to put his laundry away, acknowledge and praise him for it. Part of teaching your child to become independent means that you must give up some of the control. Your reaction to his accomplishment will encourage him to continue being independent. If you criticize and correct on every task, he will get the message that he isn't capable of doing it right. You can do it, Mom: it's the same as letting your husband clean the kitchen.
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