How to guide your child

How to guide your child
Accept small mistakes, spills and clumsiness as part of the journey to help your child become independent.
  • Accept that your child is growing up. It’s normal to get a bit choked up at the thought that your little girl isn’t a baby anymore. But it’s best to not continue to treat her like one, by always having her in your arms, for example. “If you don’t let go, you risk getting in the way of her learning,” warns Nicole Malenfant, early childhood education professor at Cégep Édouard-Montpetit and the author of several books on early childhood.
  • Respect your child’s pace. Can she eat by herself? How do you know if she’s ready to tie her own shoelaces? The best is simply to be attentive to the signs your child sends you. “If your baby is fidgeting in your arms, she may want you to put her down so that she can move around on her own,” offers Nicole Malenfant as an example. “If she grabs the spoon when you feed her, she may want to try bringing it to her mouth herself.” When she’s ready, your child will usually show you that she wants to try something. Respecting her pace also means choosing the best moments to learn something new. For example, if your 2-year-old is exhausted after a day at daycare and she just doesn’t have it in her to put on her own pyjamas, don’t insist. “Learning is best done when both child and parent are calm,” reminds Malenfant.
  • Accept that it’ll take a while… and won’t always be perfect. We often do things without asking ourselves why, like always scooping up our 2-year-old daughter in our arms to go up and down the stairs. But it’s important to explain things to her, to show her the movements and let her figure out how to do it herself while staying close by to give a hand if need be. This will avoid keeping your child in a state of perpetual dependence. Things will take longer, of course (tip: always give yourself an extra 10 minutes). “But the time that you take now to help your child become more independent will come back to you when she’s able to do things on her own,” says Nadia Gagnier. It’s also wise to let go of the notion of perfection. “When my 3-year-old son dresses himself, the colours don’t always match, but I let it be,” says Cassandra.
  • Accept small mistakes, spills and clumsiness as part of the journey to help your child become independent. If she spills milk while filling up her glass, try to control your shift in mood. Instead of scolding her, suggest that she help you clean it up. It’s important not to turn this into punishment, but rather a normal reaction to a spill. This will encourage your child to take one more step along the road to independence.
  • Guide your child and offer help instead of doing it for her. If your child is having a hard time dressing herself and you do it for her instead, you stifle her desire to try the next time. The best attitude is to offer your help then guide her through. “Offering help to a child who is trying to put on a coat that’s upside down is not turning the coat the right way up and putting it on for her,” says Sylvie Provencher. “Instead, it’s asking her questions to motivate her to figure out how to do it on her own.” For example: “Do you need help? Where are the sleeves? Should the sleeves be at the bottom?” and so on. Another tactic is to share the task between you: “Try to put on one boot and I’ll help you with the other one.” “Let’s put the toys away together.” “I’ll hold your mitten, you put your hand in and push hard.”
  • However, if you’re already running late, it’s not the end of the world if you dress her yourself one morning. You’ll make up for it the next day. The important thing is for her to have as many opportunities as possible to practice her new skills.
  • Encourage her to find her own solutions. When your child is faced with a small problem, encourage her to solve it herself. You’ll be relaying the message that you trust her abilities. If your 4-year-old is angry because she can’t find her other shoe, show her how to look for an object by asking her questions: “Now where could it be hidden? When did you see it last? Did you look everywhere in your room?” and so on. To motivate her 4-year-old son, Loïk, to find solutions, Sophie uses another tactic. “I ask him what his favourite super-hero would do in such a situation. It works every time!”
  • Try to avoid systematically getting involved in conflicts between children (unless they come to blows) and, above all, avoid taking sides. Instead ask the children what they could do to settle their conflict. If they don’t know what to answer, you can suggest a solution without imposing it: “Maybe you could try such-and-such.”
  • Offer choices. This will teach your toddler how to make decisions and also satisfy her need for independence while still giving you some control over the outcome. This strategy is especially useful towards 2 years of age (the infamous terrible twos), when children seek independence and are often right in the middle of their “No!” phase as well. Offering her choices will serve to reduce her opposition. But beware: only offer your child 2 or 3 choices (“Your blue or your green shirt?”) or you’ll be there all day.
  • Keep your expectations realistic. Even if you’re looking forward to having your child do things on her own, you’ll benefit most by suggesting tasks and challenges that are adapted to her age and abilities. If not, you set her up for failure, which will undermine her self-esteem and self-confidence. Remember that each child learns at his or her own pace.
  • Congratulate her. Becoming independent is no easy task! Your child needs encouragement. Saying, ”Bravo!” “Congratulations!” “I knew you could do it!” and “You’re a champ!” will give her self-esteem and self-confidence a lift. It’s also important to recognize her efforts, even if the task isn’t accomplished all that well. You can then say things like: “Try again.” “You can practice.” “Next time will be better.” “You’ve improved.” This will encourage her to persevere.