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The excitement of preparing your child for preschool or junior kindergarten usually involves teaching them their colours, counting, learning their ABC’s and perhaps printing their names. Skills that are certainly important, however, some of the most important skills you can teach them are self-help skills: dressing themselves, independence in the bathroom, self-feeding and self-care. These are the skills that will allow them to become a little more independent, which is always a great help when starting school.
As previous child care providers, educational assistants in the school system and moms ourselves, we have tons of tips to help you teach your child the how to’s.
Learning self-help skills whether your child is starting preschool or not is the first step towards independence. Independence builds confidence and although it may be hard at times to step back and give your child the time and space to do it on their own, the benefits far outweigh the time it takes to wait. At a young age you can start with teaching them simple tasks using the hand over hand technique. Things like tidying up their toys, brushing their teeth, washing their hands etc. The goal is to start small with the hand over hand technique while continuing to encourage them to do it on their own. Things like brushing teeth and washing hands can be done independently and then again with mom or dad.
Skills such as putting on their own coat, putting on and taking off their own shoes, tidying up toys, putting on their own mitts can all really help in the classroom setting. Having these skills not only teaches independence but it also allows them a little more freedom when in a big group and not having to wait for the teacher’s help.
Teach your child how to zip other children’s coats. Being able to help the teacher gives them a sense of pride and a great boost in confidence.
How to encourage them
When dealing with young toddlers, helping them learn these skills requires more assistance from an adult. We like to teach them with hand over hand techniques.
Ex: If you are teaching them to take their own shoes off, you would gently take their hand in yours, guide their hand to their shoe while saying “it’s time to take your shoes off” with one hand on the heel and one hand on the tip of the toe (your hand is still on top of theirs,) you would guide them and gently pull their shoe off so that they can feel the motion.
When teaching them how to feed themselves, you would hold their hand while they are gripping the spoon and guide their spoon towards the bowl and then to their mouth. Once they have gotten the hang of it with your full guidance, you can hand over hand help them scoop the food into the spoon but then allow them the independence to guide it to their own mouth.
Have a routine so that they know what is expected of them. Routines offer children the predictability they thrive on. They like knowing what comes next in their day to day and having a routine also helps decrease anxiety surrounding transitions.
Brushing teeth happens after breakfast and before bed, washing their face happens after meals and putting on their own coat before leaving the house are all things that are done consistently throughout the day.
Singing a song as they are going through the motions is also a great way to make it fun for both you and your child.
Making other fun activities while they are completing their tasks can help to keep them motivated. Setting a timer, brushing your teeth at the same time, making a game out of it and making it fun can help reduce the protesting that may be involved.
The easiest way to teach your child about their schedule and routine is with a picture chart. You can create a chart with as many or as little steps you need but the goal is that your child can see what their day to day looks like. It gives them the control and predictability that they crave.
Using a picture chart if your child is in part time care, if they have a parent that works away from home or if there are challenges with bedtime battles can help decrease challenges with the transitions. It can be as simple as a picture with a box for them to check off as you go through each step or a colour coded calendar with home and daycare days cleared laid out.
Involve your child in the charts by having them help colour or create them.
Some toddlers really struggle with control. Trying to get control and trying to keep that control can be what drives a toddler's whole day. Whether it’s picking the clothes they wear, the cup they drink from or the books they will read. Offering them a choice will give them a sense of the control they crave. The trick is that you only want to offer them the choice between 2 things. This or that! Anything more than that can be overwhelming and cause more of a challenge.
If your child struggles with making decisions, you may need to count down from 10 before choosing for them.
Although we may need to fight the urge to jump in and do everything for our children, it truly is beneficial to take the extra time to teach them self-help skills. As an added bonus, it will be easier on you in the long run! While teaching them these important life skills, be sure to praise their efforts, help them if they need help while encouraging them to do it on their own. If they are really struggling, help them and make compromises in certain situations-You do the pants, I will do the shirt. Sometimes just being beside them and offering your support as they try can help them deal with the frustration that comes along with learning.