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MYSELF! I do it myself!

MYSELF! I do it myself!

Happy (albeit late) Montessori Monday, friends.

Sensitive Period for Independence

My newly turned two year old is proudly exclaiming “MYSELF! I do it myself!” to everything right now, including getting in/out of her car seat, cutting up her dinner, opening her juice box, and driving my car. It’s a normal thing in that 18 to 36 month time frame – kids love to do things themselves. We are at the height of this right now with my Gabriella.

During this sensitive period in development, I try to take advantage of the desire for self-sufficiency as much as possible. And, if I’m being completely honest, I actually try to take any opportunity I can to let my kids do things for themselves (despite it taking 25x longer).

one becomes a well-balanced adult only if one has fully been a child.

Independence == Responsibility

In addition to allowing kids to showcase their independence, I really believe that doing so breeds responsibility. Or, at a minimum, the two go hand in hand. For example, right around when my kids turn 18 months I have them give money to the cashier at the grocery store (or put in my credit card, more accurately). It takes about 4 minutes instead of 40 seconds, but no harm no foul. I similarly have them assist me in setting the table and they take their plates to the sink and help me load the dishes in the dishwasher every day after breakfast and dinner.

This past week the kids and I were in Orlando for our relocation scouting trip. Let me tell you, traveling with 3 kids 3 and under is no joke. I can’t tell you how many times I misplaced something. The sheer number of things that are needed to move 3 kids anywhere is insane. Last week when we were about to board our flight out of Pittsburgh, the family behind me in line said something along the lines of, “Oh my gosh, you let your kids hold their boarding passes? What if they lose them?”

Yes, I’ve thought about what might happen if one of my kids loses their boarding pass. We’d ask the gate agent to print another one.

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Mind you, I’m not trying to make that happen. I try to set the kids up for success in this. I don’t give them the boarding pass when we get to the airport, just simply when we’re waiting in line for the plane. They are responsible for holding their ticket, standing against the wall (family boarding) until we are called, and then giving their boarding pass to the gate agent. They know that is how they get on the plane because we talk about it for 3 weeks every time before we fly. I also make sure that they don’t have anything else to carry or in their hands, including snacks or drinks or tablets, because I want them to succeed. I think being able to present their own boarding passes gives them a great deal of satisfaction and is a bonus to me because it’s an early lesson in responsibility.

It’s such a small and frankly stupid thing, but since someone said something to me I thought heck, maybe someone else would benefit from my two cents on this.

Let Them Be

I don’t think this is a direct quote, in fact I know it’s not, but Maria Montessori said something along the lines of – any time an adult offers assistance or interrupts a child at work (in the spirit of helping them), they are becoming an impediment to the child’s growth.

I’ve often seen this at playgrounds or playgroups when parents feel the need to suggest to the child- “Johnny, why don’t you try the swings!” or “Kimberly now why don’t you go bring your dolls to their bed?”– all well meaning, but otherwise unnecessary interruptions. Kids don’t actually need any help playing, they do it naturally and when they’re “bored” playing, that is, in between activities or not sure what to do, that is when their brains are working hard and their imagination develops. By giving direction to them, we aren’t allowing those processes to work on their own but instead supplanting our own imagination so they don’t have to use theirs.

Uninterrupted play time is absolutely essential for growing minds. It’s why Montessori structured her work periods the way she did- so children could have the time to freely move about their classroom, with boundaries of course, and naturally develop longer and more focused attention spans.

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Embrace the Struggle

The place where I struggle the most in fostering independence for my kids is in letting them struggle. You know what I mean, that frustration that kicks in when they are trying to do something because they want to, but are struggling to do it the correct way.

I mentioned my two year old likes to open her own juice boxes. I buy the Capri Sun Organic Fruit Punch pouches for their occasional enjoyment and if you’ve ever had one you know that this requires a few steps: separating the straw from the juice pouch, taking the straw out of the plastic wrapper, poking a hole in the juice box at a precisely marked location, and then inserting the straw into the hole you just poked. That’s quite a task for at two year old. And my girl LOVES doing this for herself. It sometimes takes ten minutes, and she will just keep going until she does it. Sometimes when she is struggling with any one of the steps, I naturally want to take it out of her hand and do it for her with a gentle, “let me help you.” To which she responds, you guessed it, “MYSELF! I do it myself!”

My interruption of her disrupts her growth. She’s capable of asking me for help and does when she wants it. She doesn’t need or want me to swoop in to help her get to the juice faster. She’s perfectly content to wait for her juice as long as it takes for her to do it herself. That’s a great deal of patience for a two year old, I would do well to have some patience of my own.

That’s just one small example. Another is with my 3.5 year old. We have a set of the miniuature fleet of FedEx trucks that I got for him when I was working at FedEx. Some of them have trailer hitches so multiple of them can connect, and he struggles sometimes to connect them. It’s SO HARD for me to actually not do it for him and just let him go until he asks for help.

Are any of these things relatable, guys? What are some ways you succeed or fail in allowing your kids to establish independence? Do you give in and help them because it’s convenient for you? Do you carry them into school because it takes 45 seconds instead of a few minutes? That walk for us into school is a long one, but it’s some of my favorite few minutes of every day (when it’s not winter). Do you tie the shoe when they are not getting the loop just right? There’s so many advantages to fostering early independence, but gosh it’s hard work too. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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By 3under3andme

Krista is an attorney residing in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband, son Nico, daughters Gabriella and Milana, and their au pair, Chloe!

9 Comments

  • Jay Aguirre

    Ooh what an eye-opening and informative post. This is really good advice on helping our kids to grow up to be more independent, within reason.

  • Well written and I totally agree to embrace the struggle and let them explore, may be a little bit slow but who cares, as long as they are able to make progresses

  • I remember this stage so well. It didn’t last long though. They get to a point where they are tired of doing it themselves and want you to do it for them. So I almost miss it.

  • Luna S

    It is always amazing seeing your kids grow and learn, I remember when my children wanted to start doing things on their own! As they continue growing we are doing our best to help them learn and understand everything they will need when they are older including teaching them how to cook, properly do laundry, etc!

  • Kareena

    Yes, totally relatable. It doesn’t stop when they are toddlers either. We usually let them do things on their own as they get older, but the scenario changes (ex. fixing own breakfast, doing homework). For example, “I can’t find my ball”. Even if it takes them 2 days to find, I’m not helping, because I know it will take me 5 seconds, and they need to learn how to find things (taking their time and looking properly) on their own. To be able to function successfully in this world, they must learn independence from a young age.

  • This is a great post. We as adults. Or maybe just me tend to interfere when we think it is helpful. We instead can learn from children the things we have forgotten 🥰

  • This is just the thing I needed to read right now. My girl is 20 months and is entering the do it herself phase. I let her do basically whatever she wants. Within reason of course. She’s just exploring the world. I can clean up the mess later.

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