You probably hear it all day…
“Mommy! Can you help me….??”
Your child is once again hollering for you to help them do some task they could probably do themselves. As moms, it’s super easy to get caught up in doing everything for our kids.
One minute, they’re helpless little babies who can’t even rollover, and the next thing we know, the toddler years are over and they’re ready for preschool.
And now that they’re a little older, it’s time to focus on the next stage: teaching independence in preschoolers!
In this article, I’m going to share 15 tried and true tips and activities to help you teach your child how to be more confident and able to handle situations without you constantly having to step in.
Ready to dive in?
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links which I’m happy to promote. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Much love & thank you for your support. 😊 To learn more about my policy, click here.
Why Teaching Independence in Preschoolers is Important
Teaching independence in preschoolers is part of helping your child have a happy and healthy childhood. It’s also the beginning stages of learning how to become a confident and successful adult.
As your child starts getting older they will be starting school, building friendships with other kids, and eventually navigating new experiences outside of your home. They need to know how to confidently handle these new experiences even when you aren’t right by their side.
You probably need a break!
One of the first reasons teaching independence in preschoolers is so important is because you probably need a break!
Parenting is a 24/7 job and it’s tough. Especially in those early years! It gets even more interesting when you have more than one child or a new baby.
When you’re trying to master breastfeeding again or getting that bottle at the perfect temperature and dealing with daily sleep deprivation, you will be grateful for every ounce of independence your older children have.
Even just dealing with the nonstop requests for snacks and keeping the house cleaned becomes a monumental chore when your children struggle to do small things on their own.
Having a child who is capable of playing by themselves, following directions without constant supervision, and handling age-appropriate tasks can free up a lot of time and energy for you as a mom.
Young children learn by doing
The next reason teaching independence in preschoolers is so important is because children learn best by doing. It would be nice if they could just listen to everything we say and magically be able to do things on their own, but that’s just not the case.
If you want them to be successful at tackling new challenges by themselves or persistently working at tasks without always asking for you to help or fix it, then they need to practice.
The things that they practice at home with you are the skills they will take with them as they start venturing out into the world on their own.
Independence builds self-esteem and self-confidence
The last (and my favorite) reason teaching independence in preschoolers is so important is because it builds self-esteem and self-confidence. When your child learns new skills that they can manage without mom or dad helping they develop a lot of pride and confidence in themselves.
They learn how much they are capable of and what all they can really do. This is a skill that is so, so important for kids as they grow up. Especially once they start interacting with other kids.
Sometimes kids are mean and at some point, they are going to encounter bullies and difficult situations. It is never too early to teach your child skills that will help them be more confident and self-assured when dealing with those kinds of situations.
15 Ways of Teaching Independence in Preschoolers
Now that your child can finally communicate and follow directions well, it’s time to tackle promoting some independence and a little self-reliance.
Some children easily blow through this stage and happily tackle new tasks and challenges with a happy wave or a stubborn “I do it!” (I was lucky enough to have this experience with my 2nd child.)
Other children, however, tend to need a little nudge. They are a little more cautious and find it easier to rely on mom to help them navigate life rather than sort things out on their own.
This was definitely the case with my 1st and 3rd child, so I have had a lot of experience fostering independence through the preschool years.
With a little encouragement and some good habits, you can help teach them how to be more confident and able to handle situations without you having to constantly hover nearby.
1. Give Daily Chores
My first tip in teaching independence is preschoolers is to assign them chores and responsibilities. As I mentioned before, kids learn by doing.
They will learn how capable they really are by practicing this skill with age-appropriate chores.
It also helps them develop a better understanding of all the work that you do and what it means to be part of a community that works together.
What should a 3 or 4-year-old be able to do independently?
Here are some age-appropriate chores that 3 or 4-year-olds can do by themselves:
- Pick up toys
- Put dirty clothes in the laundry basket
- Put their dishes in the sink
- Help set the table
- Make their bed
- Help put away groceries
- Help feed and water pets
- Brush teeth
- Wash their face
- Put away clothes
- Help switch over the laundry
You by no means need to make your children do all of the chores on this list. This is just an example to give you some ideas.
Feel free to pick and choose a few to get started and go from there.
Starting out, your child might need some help and encouragement to do their chores correctly, but with a little practice, they will surprise you with how much they can do.
2. Don’t Do Things They Can Do For Themselves
The next important step in teaching independence in preschoolers is to make sure that you aren’t doing anything for them they can do themselves. Every time we help them wipe their hands or take their plates to the sink, we miss an opportunity to let them practice some independence.
We also reinforce the idea that Mom will always step in and take care of these tasks.
I can tell you right now, my son got real comfortable with the idea that I was always going to pull up his pants for him or get him some water when he was thirsty. He got so comfortable with it, that he wouldn’t even try to do it for himself.
That was a clear sign, I was helping too much and it was time to step back and let him start to figure it out.
3. Give them options, not demands
Another tip for teaching independence in preschoolers is to give options, not demands. Instead of requiring them to do exactly what you say, allow them to practice a little autonomy and give them choices.
Getting to make decisions about what and how they do something helps build confidence in their decision-making skills. This confidence is the foundation for your child to feel successful enough to start practicing some independence.
Be sure to decide carefully which situations to try this out, but keep an eye out for opportunities to let them practice making decisions. Little choices throughout the day will go a long way to helping them learn to be more independent.
4. Let them work & play independently
My next tip for teaching independence in preschoolers is that you need to let them work and play independently. Don’t feel the need to hover over them while they are working on their chores or tasks.
Let them work through it by themselves as much as possible. Try to give them some initial direction and then see what happens.
This might mean that you simply do your own thing quietly nearby or maybe you leave the room altogether. Just give them the sense that they are doing their chores on their own.
The same idea should be applied to when they are playing. Try to encourage independent play as much as possible.
Play is how children learn best, so this is a perfect opportunity for them to practice some independence. If your child is used to you providing entertainment for them, this will take some practice, but the payoff is definitely worth it.
5. Let them experience natural consequences
Another good tip for teaching independence in preschoolers is to allow them to experience natural consequences. Learning independence requires children to practice making decisions and dealing with the results that come with them.
If your child never has to suffer the consequences of their actions, they won’t learn how to make better decisions. This means they will still constantly rely on you to make decisions for them.
I have seen this tip work really well with my own kids. I set the expectation that morning chores will be done before they get to play with any special toys or go outside.
It doesn’t take them long to start tackling their chores first thing when they start to miss out on getting that fun playtime.
6. Allow for extra time to do activities
While teaching independence in preschoolers, you’ll find that a lot of your tasks take longer than you’re used to. It will probably feel like it takes your 3-year-old 2 years to finish picking up their toys instead of the 5 minutes you could probably get it done in.
This is totally normal, so it’s helpful to make sure you allow extra time whenever you’re working on this skill. As your child adjusts to their newfound skills and independence, they’ll eventually pick up the pace.
- 18 Good Habits for Kids: The Best Skills to Teach Your Children
- 11 Quick Tips for Stubborn Potty Trainers – What finally worked for us!
- Free Printable Chore Chart for Toddlers – Start Teaching Responsibility!
7. Negotiate and compromise
As I mentioned before, part of teaching independence in preschoolers means allowing them to start making some decisions for themselves. As a mom, that means that sometimes we’re going to have to negotiate and compromise on certain situations.
It would be nice if preschoolers would just magically make decisions that are perfectly in line with our preferences, but that’s not real life. Find the battles that are worth fighting over and find the ones you can let go of.
For example, when my kids are that age I let them pick out their clothes. Whatever crazy outfit they come up with is fine by me.
As long as it’s clean and in good condition, we’re good to go. It’s a nice compromise – they get to practice some decision-making, and I make sure they don’t look like a total mess.
Pick your battles
I think this goes without saying, but you want to pick your battles when teaching independence in preschoolers. Never give options or choices that you aren’t ok with your child choosing.
For example, I might ask, “Do you want to brush your teeth or wash your face first?” I’m not asking if my child wants to brush their teeth and wash their face, because as far as I’m concerned, we’re doing that either way.
But I am letting him practice making his own decisions by getting to decide which one he does first. This can be applied to chores or tasks around the house as well.
Let your child choose which chore to do first. Ask them what kind of music they want to listen to while they pick up their toys.
Carefully choosing which areas you want to let them practice making decisions will help everything go more smoothly.
8. Let go of perfection
Another part of teaching independence in preschoolers is letting go of perfection. As kids learn how to make decisions and do tasks for themselves, there are going to be a lot of mistakes.
Like a lot, a lot. They’ll put their clothes on backward, put things away in the wrong place, and probably miss entire sections of their face when they wash up in the morning.
This is a normal part of the process and we have to be careful not to be too critical. Learning these skills is going to take practice and we don’t want to be so focused on them doing it exactly right that they get discouraged.
Whenever possible, embrace a “good enough for now” philosophy and make sure you mention how hard they tried. They’ll have a chance to do a little bit better the next time.
9. Embrace the role of big-kid
My next tip for teaching independence in preschoolers is to embrace the role of big-kid. Learning to do things for themself is a big sign of growing up and most preschoolers love every opportunity to be like the “big kids.”
Make sure you pump them up and let them know how doing these things for themself really shows what a “big kid” they are.
Every time I introduce a new skill to my son, I tell him that “This is something that ‘big boys’ do and since you’re a big boy, I know you can do it.”
Putting it in that context lets him know this is something that he can do and he’s more likely to try.
10. Find the right time
Another important thing to keep in mind when teaching independence in preschoolers is that timing is everything. You want to make sure that you’re in the right environment and everyone is in a good mood.
When you’re rushing out the door, at the end of a long day, or when everyone is hangry is probably not a good time to practice learning to be more independent.
When you’re running late for an appointment is not the best time for them to practice getting dressed or putting their tennis shoes on. You probably don’t have the time or patience to let them work through the task on their own.
The best time to work on teaching independence in preschoolers is when:
- You have enough time to let them practice.
- No one is hungry (you or your child).
- No one is too tired (you or your child).
11. Set up a good environment
Another thing that helps with teaching independence in preschoolers is to set up a good environment. The more you prepare things in advance to help your child do things on their own, the better.
For example, if you want your child to wash their face on their own, make sure they can reach the washcloth, soap, and water all by themselves. This might mean having a stool near the sink and everything stored where your child can easily reach it.
The more they can do the task without your help, the more ownership and responsibility they will take.
12. Make a list of independence opportunities
One of my favorite tips for teaching independence in preschoolers is to make a list of opportunities to practice. I don’t know about you, but life gets a little crazy over here.
If I’m not careful, I’ll get caught up just trying to “get everything done.” In my efforts to just hurry though, I’ll miss chances to let my son practice being more independent.
What helps with that is having a list of skills we’re working on. I love having a chore chart with pictures for him.
It serves as a reminder for both of us on what skills I need to make sure I encourage him to do on his own. Plus, he loves using stickers or stamps to mark his progress.
Tackle 1 at a time
If moving toward being more independent is new for a child, I’ve found it helpful to sometimes tackle 1 skill at a time. Doing too much too fast can get overwhelming for the child and frustrating for you.
Pick 1 skill to start with and just focus on that one for a week or two. Once your child picks it up, you can start adding in more 1-by-1.
13. Set predictable routines
Another important part of teaching independence in preschoolers is setting a predictable routine. Children thrive on routines – especially as they learn to be more independent.
When your child knows what happens each day and when, they will get more confident and comfortable with exploring new tasks. It’s hard for kids to learn new skills when they’re constantly wondering or worrying about what will happen next.
Provide flexibility with structure
Along with a predictable routine, you will need to allow for some flexibility. Like I mentioned before, when preschoolers are learning new skills things will definitely take longer and there will be some mistakes.
If your routine is too rigid, it won’t allow them the time and freedom to master these new skills.
Keep a regular routine to their day, but don’t be so set in it that your child doesn’t have enough opportunity to practice their new tasks.
14. Allow them to solve their own problems
My next tip for teaching independence in preschoolers is to allow them to solve their own problems. When they come up against a task or issue, don’t rush in to immediately help them.
Give them a chance to work through it on their own. They may stumble through and take longer to get to the solution than if you helped, but there is valuable information that they learn through the process.
If you find yourself wanting to rush in and help them when they seem to be struggling, remind yourself that the whole point behind building independence is that they learn to do things on their own.
That’s going to be hard to do if someone is constantly coming in with solutions at the first sign of a problem.
If you’re worried about your child getting overly frustrated, focus on giving encouragement and hints instead of offering the full solution or doing it for them.
Children learn the best through doing! This includes problem-solving.
15. Lots and lots of praise
My last tip for teaching independence in preschoolers is to use lots and lots of praise. Children love to know when they’ve done a good job.
The more you can encourage them with positive words, the more motivated they will be to keep working on their new skills.
When my son was potty training, I made up a song and dance called “You did it!” He would eagerly wait and watch for the song every time he went to the bathroom.
It was a little thing and only took a few minutes, but it went a long way toward keeping him interested and excited in potty training.
Resources for Teaching Independence in Preschoolers
My favorite resource for teaching independence in preschoolers is chore charts and daily routines. Chore charts and routines help make it a lot easier for me to slowly add in those independent tasks.
The printable chore charts for our routines and chore lists help keep everyone organized.
I like using printable chore charts because they are inexpensive, easy to change out as the children grow, and usually pretty customizable for our needs. We usually laminate them or use contact paper if I want to reuse them.
I post them where the kids can see them and check them off throughout the day. I like to use fun stickers with the younger kids, and with the older kids, a simple checkmark gets the job done.
Here are some chore charts you can check out.
Final Thoughts on Teaching Independence in Preschoolers
So those are 15 quick tips and activities you can use for teaching independence in preschoolers. With a little bit of practice and consistency, I bet you will be blown away by how quickly your child can learn to be more independent.
Did this list of tips and activities for teaching independence in preschoolers help? If you have more questions or concerns, feel free to reach out. Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow me on Pinterest for more homeschool and parenting advice.
Pin this for later!! ↴
You might also like…
Candice is a mom of 3 who has been homeschooling since 2013. She has an A.A.S. in Early Childhood Studies and cares deeply about helping other parents get the information and resources they need to help them homeschool their children with confidence.