It always started with an explosion of whining before dinner time each night.
As a parent I wanted to raise independent children, but I found myself in rut with a child who wanted everything done for him.
Naturally, there was incessant whining.
I would stand at the stove cooking potatoes, vegetables or what not, and my son was unrelenting with requests to entertain him because his life was “very boring” and there was “nothing to do.”
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My son tugged at my arm saying, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.”
This was after much time was spent playing together.
We “built the bridge” of connection. Right?
And yet, the only interesting and fun thing he could think of was to poke the mama bear.
I kept trying to think when this new found whining started because…it did not always used to be like this.
75+ Simple Ways to Promote Independence in Kids
Before I go into my favorite parenting tool for promoting independence in kids (more on that in a minute), let’s talk about basic ways to raise independent kids (aka life skills).
Life skills are basically how to function in the adult world without falling into a puddle of tears and calling your mama every hour.
These skills build slowly overtime with kids learning age-appropriate tasks they can do for themselves. It helps them build problem-solving and critical thinking skills, on top of other valuable characteristics like confidence, responsibility, perseverance, social skills, household management etc.
Nothing here is set in stone, and every child is different. This is simply a ballpark guide for skills your child can work to learn during the toddler, preschool and elementary ages.
Children ages 2 to 3 can learn to…
- Bring plate to sink after meals
- Dress oneself with help
- Help put the toys away
- Follow simple one-step instructions
- Put clothes in the hamper
- Brush teeth, wash face with help
- Assist with setting table (silverware, napkins)
- Fold small hand towels
- Ask an adult for help
- Put water in a cup for drinking
- Make eye contact
- Say their full name
- Mimic other kids’ behavior
- Practice differences between gentle and rough
- Follow a basic routine with help
- Greet others with a wave
- Use a toilet with help
- Look and listen for familiar noises in surrounding environment (e.g. busy street)
- Practice waiting, self control
Children ages 4 to 5 can learn to…
- Express personal preferences in a respectful way
- Know full name, address and phone number
- Know how to dial 911 (make emergency calls)
- Perform simple cleaning chores
- Identify feelings besides sad, mad, happy
- Understand basic concept of money
- Understand basic concept of time
- Pull weeds
- Water plants
- Hang towels after bathing
- Brush teeth, comb hair, wash face
- Help with basic laundry
- Use a hand vacuum
- Hang up a coat
- Chose clothes and dress self
- Clean up a spill with help
- Put trash in the trash can
- Take turns with others
- Use basic manners
- Feed pets
- Sort dirty laundry by color
- Choose between two or three selections
Children ages 6 to 7 can learn to…
- Mix, stir and cut with a dull knife
- Make a basic meal, like a sandwich
- Help put groceries away
- Wash a small set of dishes
- Unload the dishwasher
- Use basic, non-toxic cleaners
- Tidy any room after using it
- Follow multi-step directions
- Use a watch, check in at certain times
- Operate a small appliance
- Mend clothing, basic sewing
- Introduce self to someone
- Make bed without assistance
- Start a bath or shower with help
- Recognize and identify emotions
- Know how to save money
- Order off a menu at a restaurant
- Complete tasks using a timer
- Use a vacuum
- Use an alarm clock to wake up
- Keep valuables in a safe place
- Help rake the yard, sweep the patio
- Start the washer or dryer
- Organize a drawer, cabinet, small space
Children ages 8-9 can learn to…
- Clean out the car
- Bake cookies or muffins
- Shop for something, price compare
- Create reminders for self
- Learn basic first aid
- Read a recipe
- Make and count change
- Manage allowance, saving, spending
- Use the library
- Pack a lunch
- Show empathy, concern for others
- Listen to others’ opinions
- Resolve conflicts using problem-solving
- Understand healthy eating choices
- Think of pros and cons for decisions
- Express wants, likes, dislikes to peers and adults
- Write and send a thank you note
- Complete homework independently
- Cut and groom nails
- Make grocery list, help shop for items
- Answer the phone properly
- Do something without being told
- Use a checklist
- Socialize without technology
- Admit a mistake
- Offer a genuine apology
- Dress properly for an occassion
My favorite tool for promoting independence with kids.
Before my son started school, he would play alone in his room for about an hour each day. This is something we did from a very early age to both build independence and keep our family sane.
In the beginning, people thought I was crazy that I would allow him to play alone for 40-60 minutes a day. I would get comments like, “You mean he’s just alone? In there? By himself?”
Um. Yep. Just a kid and his toys.
I know this is earth-shattering to think that kids can and should play alone without constant supervision, so before anyone panics, please know that the room was safe for him to be alone. And it was for an appropriate amount of time, not an all-day affair.
You can even put “independent play” on any printable daily schedule for kids to help kids know what to expect.
But here’s my mistake with independent play.
Once my son got older, I started working more hours, we put him in childcare, and the “alone time” in his room stopped. Life got busy and chaotic, and we started to fall deep into the whole checklisted parenting trap.
The “checklisted parenting trap” causes parents to believe that kids need to attend gymnastics, soccer, the spelling bee, piano, summer camps, and every prestigious academic program at school.
While it is fun to imagine, the everyday adult world is not a constant party of hourly activities, crafts, lessons and camps.
The key to raising independent kids – alone time.
Kids know how to go to gymnastics practice and do the perfect summersault, but they often become lost with the basic concept of entertaining themselves without flashy toys, electronics or an external presence, such as a parent, sibling or caregiver.
There are countless ways to raise independent kids, but one simple change can help cut down on incessant whining and build life skills like independence, problem solving, and focusing: alone time.
(You can call it rest time, independent time, alone time…anything you want, but basically it’s alone time)
It’s a super simple practice that kids learn quickly once given the opportunity.
Here’s the real beauty…
Studies show that people–kids and adults alike–who are capable of filling their alone time feel less isolated and lonely and more creative and content with life.
There is also research to show that kids who learn self-control are less likely to experience anxiety and depression in adulthood. Learning to play alone and solve problems without outside help is a huge function of focus and self-control.
During “alone time,” it takes an immense amount of self-control for kids to…
- Troubleshoot toys without asking for an adult to fix it.
- Stay in a room for a certain amount of time.
- Entertain themselves using basic, non-electronic toys, such as blocks, cars, dolls, trains or dress up.
- Entertain themselves without another person present.
- Focus on a given set of toys for a given time without fleeting to the next toy or activity.
Here’s an easy guide for getting your child to play independently (alone).
I once read a quote that said, “Never do for a child what he can do for himself.” It’s hard to watch our kids struggle, sit patiently, wait, and allow them to reach the conclusion without fixing it for them.
But the hardest parenting choices are often the best ones.
How to give kids “alone time”
- Create a safe space.
- Set the timer (if you’re just starting, you can begin with 5-15 minutes and work your way up to the desired amount, with 60 minutes as the max).
- Explain that this is their time to play alone. It might go something like this: “Pick out some toys from the closet that you want to play with. You get to be the boss of the toys and make all the decisions. I will come back right away when the timer goes off.”
- Get them when the timer goes off.
You may find this one simple change improves behavior and whining. On top of alone time several times per week, you can also nurture independence in other ways.
Print this free printable!
This post comes with a free printable to give you an easy step-by-step guide to raise independent kids. Plus, remember what independent skills are age-appropriate for your kids!
Here’s a sneak peek…
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly parenting newsletter!
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Use it as a quick reference to keep parenting simple!
Want more on parenting?
- The Tantrum Taming Tip Most Parents Don’t Know About
- Two Words That Will Tame Tantrums Every Time
- 4 Important Words to Help End Power Struggles
- Dealing With Controlling Kids? The “Secret Sauce” That Works
- The Most Overlooked Reason Why Kids Won’t Listen, Focus or Sit Still
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My kid is 19 months. I want to start independent play. The ones you have mentioned are for little older kids. How do I do that? Any ideas?
I would love to implement alone time for my boys. My oldest is 3, & is so determined to make us play with him all the time that it’s like trying to walk when a cat is trying to trip you,but it’s a toddler. My youngest is 1, & is going through the separation anxiety stage. How would you suggest I give them each alone time, since they share a room?
You can start as early as birth 🙂 I always start with 5-10 minutes and work up from there. Doing it consistently the same way at the same time each day makes new practice take hold much quicker. You could do 20 minutes in any room and they could each select a set of special toys that you keep in the closet. I’ve even set up one of the kids in the master bedroom before…so long as it’s a safe space. And other times we used the gated patio for a playtime space as well. The possibilities are endless 🙂
Independence sometimes has a poor reputation alongside words like “rebellion” or “strong-willed”. But instead of allowing your child’s independence to become associated with negativity, create an environment that fosters the benefits of independence. Recognize areas where you child can made decisions and promote their involvement in family affairs. Remember that you decide what the choices are and then allow your child to make the final decision. Then watch their independent spirit thrive!
For siblings do you think putting one to play alone while you spent one-on-one time with the other, then switch when the timer goes off will have the same effect? My 4-year-old is so resentful or downright bossy when I try to do anything with his brother. It really gets in the way of pretty much any activity.