- Lyndsey Ryburn, MOT, OTR/L
4 Ways to Encourage Self-Help Independence
Self-help skills are important for our little ones to work on to increase their independence and success in their everyday activities. Self-help skills for toddlers and children can look like self-dressing, self-feeding, bathing, and oral hygiene routines. As a parent, it is important to support and foster the development of these skills at an early age. Here are four ways to promote self-help independence:
Practice at non-stressful times during the day. This piece is so important! If you are trying to practice dressing with your little one during a rushed morning routine while running out the door, they are not able to put in their best effort and this is not setting them up for success. Try practicing self-help skills during non-stressful times such as: dressing during bedtime routine when the environment is calm and not rushed, self-feeding during snack time where there is not pressure to eat an entire meal, oral hygiene during bedtime routine where everyone is winding down and there is more time to practice and be successful
Provide as much support as needed initially and then slowly back off. In the therapy world, we call this "backward chaining", which basically means that the caregiver provides as much support as needed in the beginning when learning a new skill (this could be 100% support) and as the child begins to master each portion of the task, the caregiver decreases their assistance level. For example when working on putting on pants the caregiver might assist with putting the feet and legs in the legholes and pulling the waistband up to the thighs and then the caregiver backs off and lets the child pull the waistband over the hips (the final step); then maybe the caregiver only assists with getting the feet and legs into the legholes and the child pulls the waistband all the way up from the floor to the waist (and so on...).
Be patient and be a cheerleader! Give your child added time to try and practice skills such as dressing and self-feeding. Using language such as "I like how you tried so hard to put your shirt on and got your head through the hole all by yourself , let me help you get your arms through!" if you see that they are struggling or needing assistance will increase your child's confidence with the task and make them more likely to try again and practice for longer.
Make it fun! If you are working on dressing, maybe you let them pick out one of their halloween costumes or even try on some of your clothes! While working on feeding, make silly big faces when bringing the spoon to your mouth and/or practice scooping with other items (not food related) such as in the bathtub or in the dirt! This will make "practicing" light-hearted and fun for your little one, further encouraging them to continue practicing and trying even when a task seems "hard".
In conclusion, practicing self-help skills daily with your little one(s) will aid in increasing their independence in their daily activities. To support them in building these skills, find non-stressful times throughout the day to practice, provide as much support as needed initially and then begin to back off, be patient and cheer them on, and make the process fun! These steps will surely lead to success!