Self-Reliance Skills in Children | The need to Step Back and give them Time & Space


Infants, toddlers and preschoolers, all learn through observation and imitation of their surroundings. And yet, the in-born, natural instinct of “watch and learn” seems to have been largely missing from our children’s lives. In our times, with both parents heavily dependent on other adults, grandparents & domestic helps, amongst others, to run a major part of their lives, children don’t see the role-models in self-reliance that they want to see around them – their parents.

Which brings us to the natural question – what role models have us parents become to our children ? As conditioned urbanites, we mostly don’t do household chores, cook, wash our clothes, iron, clean up – the list is endless. What are we teaching out children ? The inherent irony is that, given an opportunity, we would rather be the “helicopter parent“, becoming over-focused on our children, and end up taking too much responsibility for our children’s experiences, for the good and the bad.

We need to consciously teach self-reliance to our children: dressing themselves, independence in the bathroom, self-feeding and self-care. Self-reliance in children is a huge step towards self-sufficiency and independence in adult life. And not to forget, self-sufficiency begets self-esteem.
It may be hard at times to step back and give your child the time and space to do it on their own or not take help of other care givers around the house, but the benefits far outweigh the time it takes to see it through.

Be emulation worthy

Show them the right path. Don’t always be seen ordering the domestic help or your spouse. Do things for yourself and others. Be seen helping each other as a family unit when at home. Cook, do laundry, lay the table, mop and dust, wash cars, de-clutter yur home or a room with your children, at least on the weekends.

Dressing and Self-care

Here is where parents can apply the ‘Hand-over-hand to I can do it’ strategy successfully. From a young age, you can start with teaching children simple tasks using the hand-over-hand technique where you physically guide them through the motions. Simple acts like tidying up their toys, brushing their teeth, and washing their hands work well with this. The goal is to start with the hand-over-hand technique while continuing to encourage them to do it on their own. Brushing teeth and washing hands can be done again with mom or dad’s help until their skills improve. If you are teaching them to take their own shoes off, you would gently take their hands in yours, guide them 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), guide them to gently pull their shoe off so that they can feel the motion.


When teaching them how to feed themselves, hold their hand while they are gripping the spoon and guide it toward the bowl and then to their mouth. Once they have gotten the hang of it, 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.

Making it Routine

Have a routine around basic skills so that they know what is expected of them and when. Routines offer children the predictability they thrive on and can lessen resistance to tasks. Knowing what comes next in their day to day also helps decrease anxiety surrounding transitions. Brushing teeth happens after breakfast and before bed; washing their face happens after meals; putting on slippers after taking shoes off are all things that are done consistently throughout the day.

Offering Choices

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 help them feel more empowered. The trick is that you only want to offer them the choice between two things: “this” or “that”! Anything more can be overwhelming and create even more challenge.

Here is a general checklist for Age-appropriate self-reliance skills in children

* Brushing their teeth (with help)
* Cleaning their face and their high chair tray after a meal
* Starting to feed themselves with utensils
* Drinking from an open cup
* Helping to dress and undress themselves: straightening their arms when you put their shirt on; recognizing where their socks and shoes go (let them try it on their own!)

* A little more independence with dressing and undressing themselves; putting on their own shoes and coat
* Getting a tissue to blow their own nose
* Washing their own hands (with help)
* Pulling their own pants up and down when going to the bathroom
* Some independent play in short increments

* Brushing their own hair
* Brushing their own teeth (you will want to go over it after)
* Going to the bathroom on their own
* Washing hands independently with help from a bench
* Dressing and undressing from outdoor clothes

* Increase time and opportunity for independent play
* While staying nearby, let them explore outside
* Fully dressing and undressing themselves, including zippers and buttons
* Wiping their own bottom after they have had a bowel movement

Although we may need to fight the urge to jump in and do everything for them, it truly is beneficial to take the extra time to teach self-sufficiency skills in children. (And it will be easier on you in the long run!) Once they’ve mastered these small but important things, you can graduate to even more complex life skills.

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While teaching them these, be sure to praise their efforts, and help them if they need it while encouraging them to do it on their own. Sometimes just being beside them and offering your support as they try can help them deal with the frustration that comes along with learning, but it won’t be long before they’re saying, “I can do it on my own!”

Happy Parenting !

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