Helping a child become independent

Growing up and becoming independent is one of the most important jobs of childhood. As children learn to do more for themselves, they become more confident, they feel good about themselves, and they are more able to relate better with other children. 

Caregivers can help children in their attempts to become more able to do things for themselves. Here are a few hints you can use to help the children become more independent:

  1. Avoid doing things for the child that he/she can do.
  2. Allow extra time when possible for the child to do things for him/herself - like dressing and undressing.
  3. Encourage the child to try doing things he/she has not yet tried. Don't interrupt if they are trying to do something. If you see they are getting frustrated ask if they need help and assist them in getting that job done. Don't take over the job. Then say, "Look, you did it!"
  4. Also, don't expect their attempts to be perfect. Expect that there may be wrinkles in the bed they just made.
  5. Put shelves and drawers at the child's level so he/she can put away toys, books, and clothes.
  6. Put cereal, milk, juice, and other foods into small, unbreakable, easy-to-handle containers so the child can serve him/herself.
  7. Even if you have to walk slowly, let the child walk whenever possible rather then be carried.
  8. Avoid answering questions "for" the child. Let him/her answer when ready.
  9. Child-proof your house so the child can explore safely.
  10. Let the child make choices whenever possible - like which cereal to eat or which shirt to wear.
  11. Above all, notice when the child tries to do something by themselves, say, "Good job," "You're really trying," or "looks like you're growing up."

Give a choice if possible. When children are given choices they learn their opinions matter and they learn how to make decisions. For example: "You can play in the yard away from the road or you can go in the house." OR "Would you like to drink your milk in the red cup or the blue one?"
Sometimes you cannot offer a choice. Describe the action that the child must take. For example: "It is time to get ready for school now."

REMEMBER: Enforce the rule until the child learns it.



The way you handle your feelings of anger influences the way children handle theirs. Do not put children down verbally.
Talk about your feelings
Describe the action that upsets you. Be clear that it was the act that upset you, not the child. For example: "Messy rooms do not make me happy."

If you do lose your temper with a child:

  • Do not act out of anger.
  • Get yourself under control first.
  • Take deep breaths.
  • Count to ten.
  • Drink a glass of water.
  • Call a friend, relative or a local help-line.
  • Children will act the way they see you act. Do whatever it takes to help you calm down.
  • REMEMBER: Never shake, spank, or slap a child.



  • For example: "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times! "


  • For example: "When I was your age, I was not allowed to..."

Name calling

  • For example: "You're impossible! You are such baby sometimes!"


  • For example: "What is the matter with you? Can't you ever do anything right?"

REMEMBER: It is just as easy to say something positive, as it is to say something negative.


Safety: Childproof your home to keep the child safe and protect your valuables when your toddler starts crawling or walking.

  • Give safe toys to play with before the child gets into something that is off limits.
  • Take the toddler away from the situation to avoid trouble. Get the child interested in something else.

REMEMBER: Toddlers do not understand the word "no.'


  • Follow a routine.
  • Read a short story.
  • Talk quietly.
  • Make bedtime a pleasant, calm experience.
  • Be firm when it is time for the child to go to sleep.

Children learn to accept responsibility by having their own chores to do. As they grow older, children can gradually take more responsibility for helping out.

  • Show young children how to do chores.
  • Stay and help.
  • Make doing chores a game if you want.
  • It is not necessary to do it all for them.

REMEMBER: Children like to be helpful!

Toilet Training:
Toilet training is difficult. Children must first learn to control muscles that worked without notice before. Most children cannot control these muscles until around age two.

  • Encourage the child's desire to be like caregivers, older brothers or sisters.
  • Expect slow progress and mistakes.
  • Do not punish for mistakes.
  • Praise successes.
  • Deal with mistakes in a matter-of-fact way. For example: "You wet your pants, let's get some dry pants for you."

New Situations

  • Children may feel fear or be uncomfortable in a new situation.
  • If children are old enough, prepare them ahead of time to know what to expect.
  • Give the child extra attention.
  • If the child acts out, you may take him/her away from the situation. Stay with the child

Temper Tantrums
A temper tantrum comes from the children feeling a strong need or fear and feeling they have no way to satisfy it. They have not learned another way to express frustration.

  • Do not try to reason with a child in the middle of a tantrum.
  • Describe the behavior to the child: "You have that break something, throw something feeling". This tells the child you understand.
  • Show children a positive way out of the situation. They may need to sit down or go to     their room to calm down. Stay with a very young or very upset child.
  • Get toddlers interested in a toy or stuffed animal.

"Giving-in" teaches children they can get their own way
by throwing a tantrum.
Teach children to use words to express frustration, such as: "I feel mad, sad or upset."

Sibling Rivalry
Feelings of jealousy and competition between brothers and sisters are normal.

  • Step in if one child is hurting another.
  • Ignore tattling and minor disagreements when you can.
  • Praise children when they get along well.
  • Give each child time alone with you.
  • Pick activities for them to do away from each other.
  • Respect the child's need for privacy.
  • Not all prized possessions have to be shared.
  • REMEMBER: All children want and need their caregivers' attention.


Learning how to do homework can start at an early age. When children begin to get homework:

  • Give a quiet space to work.
  • Help pick a study time.
  • Supervise when necessary to help the child learn how to study. The child will need less supervision as he/she learns study habits.
  • Develop a system of rewards for acceptable work and consequences for unacceptable work for children and teens who have trouble getting motivated. The consequences should relate directly to study performance. For example: Loss of TV or telephone privileges during the school week. Rewards could be keeping these privileges.
  • Praise effort. Setting unreasonably high goals discourages effort.
  • Never do children's homework for them.

What to do in the Grocery Store to Help a Child Behave:

  • Give child a responsibility (Match coupons with the labels)
  • Ignore inappropriate behavior unless it is dangerous, destructive or embarrassing to you or a bother to others
  • Remove child to a private place to discuss misbehavior
  • Praise another child's appropriate behavior
  • Play a game with the child (Let's count all the tennis shoes we see on people's feet)
  • Discuss rules before entering store
  • Bring a nutritious snack for child to eat during the shopping
  • Bring a storybook for child to look at
  • Select a secret word or signal that you can both use to get the attention of the other
  • Don't let the child out of your sight
  • Reinforce appropriate behavior
  • Bring a favorite toy, blanket, etc. to help make him/her feel secure
  • Don't bring children to the store if they are tired or hungry
  • Role play at home how to act at the grocery store
  • Give child something of yours to play with -- keys, pocket book, etc.
  • Tend to unacceptable behavior as soon as it occurs
  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothes to the grocery store (both caregiver and child)
  • As the child is able, let him comparative shop for you
  • Take an older child to help you
  • Let child know it is a privilege to go shopping with you

Positive Ways to Encourage Children's Growth

  • Show children you like them.
  • Provide a model for intellectual curiosity.
  • Reward responsible behavior and tasks you ask them to complete.
  • Require the child to complete certain tasks starting at an early age.
  • Set aside time each day to give the child your undivided attention.
  • Encourage organization at an early age.
  • Help the child discover his natural gifts.
  • Work with the child's teacher.
  • Encourage the child's growing independence & autonomy (ability to become self-reliant

We can treat our children with respect by letting them solve their own problems.

Six Step Problem Solving Technique

  1. State the problem.
  2. Brainstorm the alternatives.
  3. Select one possible solution.
  4. Implement a solution.
  5. Reassess the plan.
  6. Start over, if unsuccessful.

It is normal to sometimes feel frustrated. Talk to others about problems and experiences. Talking helps you to cope with tough situations.


Funding for this program provided by the Department of Health and Human Services