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SANTA MARIA INTEGRATED LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
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Developing Independence in Children
Every child has a strong desire to be independent. However, they look for a security cover from parents as they search for independence. Watch a small child run away from his parents. He runs a little way and then turns and looks back. He turns and looks back trying to spot his mother or father. If the parents smile reassuringly, the child runs away further and explores. He is learning that it is alright to go away on his own. He ensures that his parents approve of it. A wonderful bit of self-learning!
Very often, we hear children say, “I want to do myself.” It shows their urge to be independent. They want to show that they can do things for themselves. They can dress, eat independently and are able to manage their day-to-day chores. For them, there is always something new to discover and something new to try out. Sometimes, their desire to do things independently comes in conflict with what others want them to do. This is the stage where they experience conflict between dependency need and need for autonomy. In such situations, children typically try to overcome the feeling of insecurity and guilt. When the child’s desire to do things independently is supported by parents without creating a feeling of insecurity, he/ she gets a sense of achievement and develops confidence in his/her abilities. Parents have to be sensitive and play a supportive role towards their child in facilitating this process of becoming independent.
In the process of growing up, everyone needs freedom to choose and act independently. Children too try to discover what it means to be independent and to be no longer entirely helpless and dependent on adults. They want to take decisions on their own but are often not sure of the consequences. They thus look for support from their parents. They try, at times, to follow their peer group. However, they may not like to move away from parents completely. Consequently, they experience conflict when their expectations and priorities do not match those of their parents. Achieving a favourable ratio of independence and dependence is the second basic task in healthy personality growth.
It is not easy to develop feelings of independence when one is compelled to be dependent on others. In such situations, some children develop a tendency to depend on others. They become afraid of becoming independent in their behavior and thinking. In some special cases, such continued dependence may arise out of unfavourable physical conditions and illness like asthma, diabetes, or disability from an accident. However in most cases, it significantly depends on their home environment where perhaps independent behaviour is consistently discouraged. How well one succeeds in achieving this balance in early life will, in a large measure, determine the kind of adult a child will become.
How do we help them become independent?
We have to realize that we are dealing with children who are growing physically, socially, emotionally and intellectually. Children gradually acquire the ability to use their bodies in ways which make it easier for them to be independent in walking, reaching out, climbing, dressing up and performing other daily chores.
We could help them by getting them clothes that they can manage themselves so that they begin to dress and undress without help. We could get them play material that they can manipulate without having to ask for help. We could keep their things at places within their reach so that they do not have to ask for help.
Watch for signs that indicate the urge to be independent. Listen for words like “let me do it” and “I can do it myself.” Convey the message that they can do things for and by themselves and that you value their being independent. Developing a sense of autonomy gives them the confidence that they would be able to eventually handle situations and events that are likely to happen later in their lives.
We have to give them opportunities to do their daily chores independently. This builds confidence in their abilities to look after themselves and also give them a sense of achievement.
There are individual differences between children. Some become independent at an early age. They do their tasks with minimal help while others may need more help. Of course, every child would like to be in the lap of his/her mother. This gives them a sense of security. They do need periodical reassurance of feeling safe and being loved. If children seek such reassurance, do not interpret it as their being over-dependent.
In order to develop independence, we have to respect the individuality of children. They should not be treated either as babies, or as mature adults. One should not expect them to be dependent at all times nor expect adult standards of behaviour from them. It is essential for adults to have trust and confidence in children’s growing independence. Give them reassurance about their ability to carry out tasks independently and take their own decisions. As they grow older, this can be done by involving them and considering their opinions in taking decisions about affairs which concern them.
Dr. Amita Govinda