As parents, educators and a concerned adult in the life of a child, one of our primary goals is to not only teach our children about the world but to also teach them how to be kind, confident and yes, more independent. We get it that independence can be tricky! We are not talking about independence where they walk themselves to school independently or make decisions about having a sleepover at their friends. But, yes the kind of independence where they pick out their own clothes or snack and hopefully do their homework independently! Independence does not mean that they can't ask for help or support will not be given.
However, it's no easy task to teach these concepts to kids. So why not incorporate teaching these concepts into playful activities? There are many simple ways to help develop these core skills and encourage growth at home or school while they’re playing with toys, or games.
Below are some ideas which would work for both parents and teachers.
Practice Decision Making
Start with letting kids make play-time decisions! Encourage their interests, and engage with them. Playtime is a good time to figure out children's interests and strengths. Let them take the lead and tune in.
Practice Strategies for successful peer interactions.
Good interactions with friends build confidence. So, if turn taking is difficult for your kid, try teaching a song like Cocomelon's 'Wait your turn' or try using a timer. If there are difficulties with not handling losing a game well, encourage your child to take a deep breath at the end of the game to help cope. Encourage them to verbalise and share their feelings. Many difficulties in peer play come up in choosing what to play and whose choice it will be. If your kids struggles with flexibility, then try a simple routine at home e.g. once a week a different family member chooses the movie to watch or the restaurant to go to.
Encourage Independent Play
Apart from letting kids choose what they want to play, it's also a great idea to encourage them to play on their own. If you find you kids resisting at first, encourage them to go and find something to do on their own. Colouring, reading, building a castle, or playing with dolls all are great examples.
Model and Teach Ways to be Strong and Kind
Kids can be kind to one another without getting walked over. If your kid enjoys playing with a toy and someone else wants to play with it, model and encourage him to say: “Yes, you can play with the toy when I’m done.” This is important to model that I'll share when I'm done. It's also communicating to your child that their needs are important. They need to develop the voice to say what they want and they don't want. Kindness is not weakness but a strength. More important than teaching children how to handle difficult situations in a strong but kind way is actually modelling it for them. Kids are always watching you!
Praise and be Specific
We'll cover The Growth Mindset in a different blog post because it's just so important. But for now, instead of saying, “Wow, you did awesome.” Try something more specific like “Wow, I really liked how you didn’t panic when water dropped on your project ” Or, “I feel so happy you were able to remain calm when s/he was screaming at you.” By praising a specific behaviour, kids know EXACTLY what they did that was correct, and thus are more likely to repeat the behaviour again.
Help Develop Positive Self-Talk
We all know the nagging and painful thoughts we have. By nature we are often not very kind to ourselves. We often jump to the most negative conclusion in a situation or imagine the worst about ourselves. “Uff, I knew I couldn’t do it.” “I’m not that smart.” “It’s too hard.” Help change kids’ thinking when you catch them getting frustrated while playing, encourage thoughts like,“I can do it.” “I can try again.” That’s a small problem, I will be okay.” or make "Yet' your new best friend. Every time you see the kids' saying "I can't climb the tree" add a 'yet' and say, " I can't do this yet." Because we can improve all our skills with effort and practice.
Help or teach someone
A great way to build confidence in kids is by pairing them with a younger kid (cousin, sibling, neighbour, etc) to teach them something they are good at. Kids love to help!
Don’t Always Fix Everything, Let Children Figure it Out
This could be the trickiest one! We know it's hard to resist the urge to step in and fix things for our kids when we see them sad, stuck or frustrated! But, it's important to not step in and let kids problem solve. Let them try out their solutions and stay with them as they face the consequences. Being by their side as they make their own decisions is the most powerful of love! Plus, it will help them develop skills for success!