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US Nanny Institute on July 21, 2020

When a baby enters the world, they are entirely dependent on parents, nannies and others for their care ad well-being. As they grow and develop, they become less reliant and more independent from their parents and nannies. Sometimes we are surprised by what they can do by themselves.


It may take a few minutes longer to teach a child a skill (you can definitely dress the child faster than they can dress themselves), but the benefits of letting the child learn far outweigh the time investment. As children learn to do more and more things on their own, they develop a sense of self-confidence and independence. Parents and caregivers also benefit. They become supervisors instead of workers.


To help with this development of independence, it is important to understand the child’s capabilities at each age. You would not dream of trying to teach a toddler how to slice vegetables or cook on the grill! Setting age-appropriate goals not only helps keep the child safe but also can reduce the frustration of learning new skills and tasks. Toddlers are usually capable of learning to put clothes in a hamper, put toys away and wash their hands. Preschoolers can be taught to brush their teeth (with help and guidance), set the table with non-breakable dishes, and use a butter knife with supervision. Kindergarteners should be able to follow simple 2-step directions and dress for the day. As you can see, as the child grows, the abilities change.


Once the new skill is identified, the child will need easy to understand instructions to learn the skill properly. Make sure anything they made need is readily available and walk the child through the activity. For example, teaching a child to brush his teeth requires that the child be able to reach the toothbrush, toothpaste, and cup. Demonstrate how to hold the toothbrush and apply a small dab of toothpaste. Show the child the circular motion they should use on each tooth. You may want to bring your toothbrush and toothpaste into the room and demonstrate how you brush. You can also gently use their brush on their teeth or guide their hand while they brush. Once each tooth has been brushed, teach the child how to rinse with water. Once they have mastered basic toothbrushing, you can add mouthwash and floss lessons.


As with all new skills, the child may be resistant at first. Sometimes you can encourage children to complete unliked tasks by using “first/then” statement. For example, if a child is reluctant to clean up their toys, you might say “First put your toys away and then we will go to the park”. This lets the child know the unliked task is snot up for negotiation and gives them something to anticipate as they put away the toys.


No one learns a new skill the first time and children will make mistakes. Parents and caregivers must remember that just because something is simple for them, does not mean it isn’t challenging for a child. When a child completes a new task successfully, they should be praised. If a child makes a mistake, be patient and encourage them to try again.


As the child grows and becomes more and more independent, they also need to learn that actions and choices have consequences. A child needs to make their own decisions (within limits of course) to become independent. This is part of the evolution to independence and children need to learn that there are boundaries to what is acceptable. Setting clear boundaries and enforcing consequences encourages the child to consider the pros and cons of their actions and helps them develop good decision-making skills. For example., sometimes children will learn where their toys belong but find it easier to hide them in a closet or under a bed. If this behavior is left unchallenged, it will continue. However, if the child has to not only put each toy in its proper place but also loses an hour of screen time, they will most likely think twice before trying it again.


As children get older and become more independent, they often have more control over how they spend their time. For example, when they get home from school, they may not have a specific schedule even though they need to have dinner, complete homework, and get ready for bed. Some children prefer to complete the homework first to get it out of the way while others may wait until bedtime to start it and then run out of time. Children need to learn time management skills. They should be encouraged to figure out how long tasks will take and manage their schedules accordingly. If the child procrastinates and does not finish an assignment, they should accept the consequences for their failure to plan. Children must be allowed to fail in order to appreciate the link between the choices they make and their impacts.


Today, teaching children independence can be complicated. In simpler times, children often walked around the neighborhood, played outside until dark, walked to a neighborhood store or movie theater, and walked unaccompanied to school. In today’s world, parents and caregivers are generally more cautious and children are generally not allowed the same freedoms. Children today can develop the independence and confidence needed to succeed if they are encouraged to make good decisions and understand that choices and consequences are connected.

Nannies can learn more about traditions and how to provide better care for children by enrolling in a childcare certification program at the US Nanny Institute.

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The US Nanny Institute provides online childcare classes with certification programs based on a curriculum specifically designed to advance the skills of Nannies and Sitters. The Nanny Institute has over 30 college faculty with a passion for education and childcare, bringing them together to help childcare providers gain practical skills and qualifications that benefit their careers and the children in their care.