Why children love doing things for themselves (even when they can’t)

In celebration of Zipper Day on April 10 (oh yeah, that's a Day), we are discussing zippers, coats, shoes - but really all the things that symbolize independence to children. You’ve seen when they try to do something themselves but don’t have the strength or the skill set. It’s downright adorable. I know, sometimes it’s annoying especially when you’re in a rush. But really, it really pays off when you spend the time (when you have the time) helping them figure out how to put on their shoes or their jackets. This usually starts between 2-4 years old, but later if you don’t spend the time working on these skills. Let me put it this way: spending 20 minutes every morning for 5-7 days will save you 5 minutes every day for a long time! Make the investment and not only do you teach a skill, you raise their confidence.

Children are naturally trying to be independent every single day of their lives. They yearn for it - and so do we. And that’s great! Because how else are they going to move out of your house when they’re 18? I know it sounds like a long way off, but you start with all these little steps that give children power and control over their lives. From that, everything can bloom - finding out for themselves how a little box can fit in a big box (this is actually big in cognitive learning) or how to kick a ball towards a focal point. Independence is the theme in everything they do if you give them the time, space, and language.

What does that mean? It means that you give them the language to access these instincts and act on them. After all, parents are children's first teachers, so they get their cues from you - what to do and how to handle the feelings that come up when they struggle to learn. And they will struggle - nothing worth doing well comes easy.

Here are some examples of language you can use to grant them entry into autonomy:

  • I think you can do it, wanna try?

  • You can try again later, you are just learning.

  • That was a good practice, you’ll get it right soon!

  • I know it can be frustrating, but things that we learn take time and patience.

  • Try to be patient. Take a deep breath and try again. You’re OK.

It’s important not to say “good job!” too much. Positivity does help with self-esteem in appropriate amounts, but educators now know that saying “good job” easily even when a child is not making an effort gives them the false impression that just showing up is enough to learn. Praise should be earned so that they learn the value of hard work and intention.

These are words that, repeated over time, become their inner monologue - about anything! When they’re learning how to ride a bike when they fail a test when a boy they’re dating breaks up with them. Try to connect to your own inner voice - what’s it like? Is it understanding, motivating, strong? Is it mean, critical, destructive? Now imagine that voice in your child’s head. What would you change about it, what would you enhance?

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