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What does it mean to be independent?

22 Jan 2018


Wellingtonians will develop the personal, cognitive, social and study skills to enable them to cope with University and their lives beyond. They will adapt, cope and thrive within an ever-changing world. This will be reflected in our curriculum and our continued focus of character development and leadership. ——Julian Thomas, Master, Wellington College

What does it mean to be independent?

Originating in the early 17th Century as an adjective; partly on the pattern of French ‘indépendent’, meaning ‘capable of thinking and acting for oneself’.


Independence contributes to the development of self-esteem, identity and wellbeing. Doing something for yourself produces a powerful sense of achievement and success. When children have opportunities to make choices, to attempt tasks for themselves and to take increasing responsibilities, their sense of themselves as competent member of society grows. Childhood is a time of increasing independence. As children grow and develop, they become more able to do things for themselves, to express themselves and explore their world independently. Being independent supports developing the confidence to explore and make sense of surroundings, becoming aware that we have influence and a measure of control over things that happen.



By age, there are key characteristics which parents may be familiar with:


  • Toddlers need activities suited to their abilities so that they don’t become bored or give up
  • Physical environments that encourage independence foster young children’s growing needs to participate in ‘adult’ tasks such as cleaning up after snack and washing hands before and after eating
What to do:
  • Give young children an opportunity to help with dressing and undressing
  • Give limited choices – red cup / blue cup
  • Be flexible and give comfort when needed – becoming independent takes time!


  • Independence at this age can be expressed through ‘no’ statements throughout the day
  • 4-year-old children may respond negatively to efforts to restrict their behaviour
What to do:
  • Provide reasonable alternative choices
  • Involve children in planning and rule making
  • Use role play to help practice
  • Reinforce positive assertions and ignore negative ones, i.e. well done for sharing


  • At this age, children see themselves as separate from the adults around them and work to form their own identities
  • 5&6 year olds may test limits and experiment with contrary behaviour
What to do:
  • Provide more opportunities for children to make decisions and express opinions
  • Support children in working together to solve problems

(改编自 www.scholastic.com)

20 tips for encouraging independence

  1. Expect more – raise the bar and your child will stretch to meet it
  2. Resist doing for your child what they can do for themselves
  3. Don’t redo what they’ve done already – if your child makes their bed, don’t be tempted to smooth the sheets
  4. Let them solve simple problems – pause before racing to help
  5. Assign a chore – for example watering the plants
  6. Praise is key – children repeat behaviours that get attention
  7. Develop predictable routines – establish house rules, use ‘when’ and ‘then’, e.g. when you’ve put your cars away, then we can go to the park……
  8. Lighten up! If a child refuses to do something, try turning it in to a game
  9. Warn of transitions – give notice of change, e.g. five more minutes and it is tidy up time
  10. Use rewards judiciously – if a child only works towards the routine, they won’t learn the real reason for doing things. Make it big, e.g. potty training and not for everyday things
  11. Give structured choices, e.g. if a child refuses to sit to eat, “no sitting, no pudding”
  12. No ifs – if you……then we….. as this suggests a child might not do something. Use ‘when’ and ‘then’
  13. Prioritise play – let a child go and play. It is not a parent’s job to entertain all day
  14. Do it to music – set a task to music and it can suddenly become fun!
  15. Encourage teamwork – give times activities and then swap
  16. Let your child work out minor squabbles – don’t jump in too quickly (unless there is physical contact)
  17. Redirect and distract attention to where it should be
  18. Prevent goodbye meltdowns – let your child carry a picture of you, or kiss a tissue and put it in their pocket
  19. Involve your child in righting wrongs, e.g. colouring on walls – help wash off; knock something over – clean up the spill
  20. Don’t delay discipline – never use “wait until we get home….”


“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” ——Denis Waitley, Author of the Psychology of Winning