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    Ways to Help Primary Children Develop Independence

    School News

    28 Aug, 2019

    10 : 00

    • Developing independence comes in a variety of ways for children, and happens at different developmental stages. For children in Primary school, one way in which they can learn how to become more independent is through applying a structured approach to organising themselves for the school week.

      Primary-aged students can successfully engage in self-care skills as well as organisational skills. Self-care skills include dressing, eating, and brushing their teeth. Organisational skills include packing their school bag, packing lunch and snacks, for older children preparing simple meals or snacks such as a sandwich, filling their water bottles, and organising their school diary/folders.

      It is important to help children develop an understanding of what their responsibilities are and why. According to YCIS Shanghai Puxi ECE and Primary Student Wellness Co-ordinator Ms Jana van Zyl, having weekly family meetings is a great way to support this. "During the family meeting, parents and children can discuss responsibilities for the week and reflect on tasks from the previous week. Parents can establish clear routines and set targets for children with the tasks that they would like them to take responsibility for, as well as make suggestions and ask questions like, 'This week we will be growing our independence. What can we do to show that we are more independent in the mornings before school?' This process will help to create expectations, and the parents can reinforce this every morning using positive language."

      If a child is missing skills which parents would like to assist them in developing, there are also ways to help. "We encourage the use of positive language to develop these skills. For example, rather than saying to a child, 'Why is your room so messy?' We would rephrase this and say, 'What do you need to do to be more organised?’ In other words, using the 'positive' virtues language to reinforce the behaviour that you would like to see, rather than the negative behaviour that the child is displaying," explained Ms van Zyl.

      Visual reminders – including images and charts – of what is expected of children as members of the family are also vital when developing independent individuals. These reminders can be designed by the whole family as part of the family meeting and reviewed at subsequent family meetings on an ongoing basis. Consistently referring back to these reminders can assist parents in maintaining their expectations. Parents can also discuss and pre-determine some consequences and add these to the visual reminder. Once a child then needs re-direction, parents can use the images or charts as a reminder of expected positive behaviour that was agreed to by all parties.

      Including children in setting nighttime routines can also positively influence their behaviour by reducing the morning rush and creating a smoother start to each school day, and this will also help children feel more independent and responsible. "Organisational skills can be utilised by children the night before school, such as packing their school bags, checking and finishing all home learning, and ensuring that their parents have signed their school diary. Other suggestions include putting folders and diaries into school bags, getting their uniforms ready for the next day, and checking their timetables to see if they should wear PE uniform or house colours. Older children can also help to prepare their snacks, keeping them in the refrigerator for easy access the next morning," said Ms van Zyl.

      Sometimes things don't go so smoothly in the mornings, but it is best to keep calm and use these opportunities to help reinforce children's' responsibilities. According to Ms van Zyl, "Parents need to reinforce and model the expected behaviour of their children. If parents are anxious and angry, then children become defiant. Acknowledge the child's emotion that is causing the frustration and remind them of the family expectations that are on display. For example, 'Mummy can see that you are feeling frustrated this morning. During our family meeting, we agreed that you would pack your school bag. What do you need to do to show me independence so that we can be at school on time?' Validating the child's emotion is essential, as is providing re-direction or guidance of the behaviour that you would like to see with love."

      Fostering independence and responsibility go hand-in-hand, and they help to develop positive self-esteem and confidence in a child. The child can feel a sense of achievement for having accomplished something, and the experience makes them want to try more new things that they can do themselves.

      Ms van Zyl described how development is unique to every child, saying "All children grow and develop different skills and different virtues at different times." Some children may need a little more encouragement and parents can help to foster this independence step-by-step. "Make sure that tasks are attainable and meaningful for the child. If it's something that they are struggling with, they may be reluctant to do it, but if you break it up into manageable steps for the child, they will experience success and will want to be more independent," said Ms van Zyl. "It will take patience from the parents to allow the child time, especially young children, to complete tasks independently. Parents must resist the urge to want to do the tasks for their child," she added.

      At school, parents also have access to additional useful information regarding their children’s development. The YCIS Puxi ECE and Primary Counsellor, Ms Biteena Frazier, hosts a "Virtues Project" parent workshop, and parents who would like to learn more about this approach can sign up for these sessions.

      As a parent, you have many goals for your children, and the development of your child into becoming an independent, self-reliant person is key. By employing a number of techniques, processes, and protocols, and by supporting with love and patience, this journey is an enjoyable process for parents and children alike.