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How to Encourage Independence in Young Children

It's natural... all children eventually wish to assert their independence. These parenting tips help foster independence and encourage our children to practice assorted self-help skills.

“Let me do it!”

“I want to do it by myself!”

“Don’t help me!”

Does this sound familiar?

It’s natural… all children eventually wish to assert their independence. How do we encourage this safe and necessary development of self-sufficiency?

Here are some ways to encourage independence in young children.

Allow them the opportunity to choose their own clothes.

This is a big one and it’s so important to young children. The ability to take ownership over their appearance means a lot to a child. Let them pick out what they want to wear on a daily basis.

Give your children plenty of time to dress themselves.

While you’re letting them select their clothing, you can also give them ample time to dress themselves. Not only is this a great activity to increase independence but it’s a necessary self-help skill which needs to be consistently practiced.

If your child gets overwhelmed over what to put on first, you could always display a pictorial schedule so they know the order in which to put on their clothing. This post HERE gives a great example on how to create a pictorial schedule for children.

Make items accessible to them.

Often when we’re organizing our homes, we think of what works best for us. However, I encourage you to think about what would work best for your children. Here are some ways to do so:

* Install hooks at their level in the front entrance for their coats and in the bathroom for their towels.

* Have a basket of facecloths available in the bathroom.

* Provide low stools for the bathroom.

* Keep a basket of prepared snacks and water bottles on the lowest shelf of the fridge.

* Place a laundry hamper for dirty clothes in their clothes closet.

It's natural... all children eventually wish to assert their independence. These parenting tips help foster independence and encourage our children to practice assorted self-help skills.

Let your children play alone in the yard.

If you have a fenced yard, allow your child the opportunity to play alone in the yard. Sit by the window and keep an eye on them. They’ll love the opportunity to roam, dig, and play (seemingly unattended). If you’re looking for a variety of inexpensive ways to make your yard more child-friendly, check out this post HERE. It’s full of creative ideas to make yards fun and interesting for young children.

Allow them the opportunity to serve themselves.

Instead of scooping food onto a plate for your children, allow them the chance to serve themselves. Provide serving spoons and let them to scoop and place the food on their plate.

Give children opportunities to clean up after themselves.

Provide wet cloths and encourage your children to wipe down the kitchen table and counters. If they spill their juice or milk, get them to wipe it up. Encourage them to scrape their plates and place their dishes on the counter or in the dishwasher.

Involve children with the chores.

Another way to encourage independence with young children, is to get them involved with regular household chores. They can help fold towels, put clothes away, empty the dishwasher, and assist you with yard work such as watering the garden or shoveling the sidewalks.

Let your children help with grocery shopping.

When out grocery shopping with your child, encourage them to select various items. For example, you can give them a bag and tell them to select four apples. Older children can be given their own list and given the responsibility to select the items on their list when they get to that section of the supermarket.

Encourage your children to speak for themselves.

I recently shared some strategies on how to raise our children to be passionate and involved citizens. A couple of the tips included: allowing your child to speak to librarians and to purchase items from the grocery store. These sorts of actions help foster independence in young children.

When we encourage independence in young children, we are indirectly telling them that we have confidence in them. It lets them know that we think they are capable and competent. Just imagine how wonderful that parental support and esteem would feel to a young child!


Jennifer Bly
Jennifer Bly
Author of My Kitchen, My Classroom: An Introduction to Homeschool, creator of The Deliberate Mom, Deliberate Homeschooling and regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Jennifer writes about parenting, her faith, and life with her husband and two girls. Jennifer has a Bachelor of Applied Human Service Administration Degree with a specialization in Early Learning in Child Care.

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44 thoughts on “How to Encourage Independence in Young Children

  • Janine Huldie

    I always heard from my older daughter, “I do it by myself!”, when she was a bit younger. So, I learned very quickly to adapt to her independent streak at this point by using some of the above techniques totally. So, thank you so much for sharing a few more and definitely a great resource for helping with little kid’s independence. Happy Monday now xoxo :)

  • Ceil

    Hi Jennifer! Is there anything more fun than seeing what your kids choose when you let them pick out their own clothes? I remember those days, and some of the combo’s were just horrifying! And of course the pants were backwards, but it was so darn cute.
    I agree that empowering children in these ways helps them to see their own ability to control their environment, at least a little bit. They are told what to do and when to do it so much (for safety and learning), it’s good to have them feel like they have a say in their own lives.
    Hope you had a good weekend!

  • Sarah @ GlamGranolaGeek

    Love your suggestions! I have recently started trying to consciously involve my eldest more with cooking and chores and she LOVES it! She’s really blossoming into a little helper and it is helping with her independence immensely!

    • Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom

      What wonderful timing for your daughter to start helping out – especially considering you’re carrying baby #3! Children just love to help! It gives them such satisfaction and pride.

      I’m glad you enjoyed these suggestions Sarah. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Tamara

    My kids have always seemed just a bit too independent for me! Like.. why don’t they cling to me more??
    That said it’s helpful to see this list because there are things I let slide almost daily – mostly with my older one. Des is learning to pick out his clothes which is always fun.

  • Caryn

    Ahhh. The timing of this post is awesome. We’re trying to figure out how we let go a little and let our child be more independent. Because our son has a peanut allergy, we’ve become somewhat over protective. There’s a fine line between over protective and overbearing, so these strategies will help as we move forward.

  • Matthew

    Hi Jennifer,

    Great list – one that brings back some fond memories…. a barely 3yo using the disproportionately enormous vacuum cleaner brings a smile to my face.

    Some other suggestions perhaps for slightly older children might be:
    – get an older child to help with a younger child with all of the activities you have mentioned above.
    – if you have more than one child, get them to get lunch for the family together. Sandwiches are easy for young kids to produce (remember appropriate supervision if knives are involved) and the sense of a completed shared task that involves siblings working together for a common goal do great things for their self confidence.
    – “Call ahead” – ask your young child to telephone the grandparents for you to pass on a message.
    – get your young child to help Grandad with his iPad or smart phone. Chances are high that Grandad has no clue, yet digital native 5 year olds can push technology to its limits and can explain things in a very simplistic way that even grandparents can understand.


    P.S. I made a little shout out to you Jenifer on my most recent blog post “New Beginnings”. I would have mentioned it earlier, but I’ve had technical difficulties which have caused my website and email to do an unfortunate impression of a yo-yo over the last week….

  • Monica

    I do many of these things. However, I haven’t yet had my three (almost four!) year old serve herself food. She gets her own fruit, vegetables and occasionally sneaks into her candy stash, but I think I’ll try having her scoop food onto her plate. I think she’d really like that. :)

  • Danielle

    Great tips! I use a lot of these with my 3 year old, but will have to try letting him serve himself at dinner and giving him a little more space in the yard. I\’m all about fostering independence in my little men!

  • Ifeoma Samuel

    Hello Jennifer, these are very beautiful suggestions. My little daughter loves to help her self and do some chores too.
    Lovely to help them get on with being independent.
    Thank you my dear friend.
    Many Blessings

  • Michelle

    What a great post! I love all the ideas for giving kids independence early, I think it helps instill in them a sense of responsibility, and that confidence that comes from knowing “I can do it myself” :)

    • Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom

      I’m delighted you enjoyed this Michelle. Yes, children like to feel like they are “big” and that they can do things by themselves. Plus their independence also helps us to avoid being run ragged! Of course they still “need” us but they can “need” us for quiet times together, playing, and reading… the times that really build bonds rather than routines.

  • Jeremy@thirstydaddy

    I would encourage these practices in my daughter, but the fact is that she demands each and every thing on her list. She constantly amazes me with her independence, even ordering her own meals at restaurants. I’d actually like my 3 yr old to act a little more like a 3 yr old!

  • Amanda

    Independent children is the goal of parenting so it’s great to start early! I need to work on letting my children serve themselves food and dress themselves.

  • Lauren

    I think letting kids select their own outfits and clothes is HUGE. I really think that not only gives kids independence, but confidence as well.

  • Jessica Dimas

    SUCH great suggestions! My boys love to play in the backyard alone. And I’m totally checking out that post on how to make your backyard fun. I really need to work on letting my boys do more for themselves. I always want to do it because I don’t want to deal with the mess, but they’re never going to learn like that or get to feel a sense of pride and independence. Great article as always, Jennifer!

  • Tiffany

    Great tips as usual Jennifer! We need to do better about taking time to let A dress herself. She does most of it, but sometimes we’re in such a rush I’ll just put her shirt on for her. I need to slow down and let her do it. Same with letting her play in the yard. We have a pond and the hubs is always worried about her throwing rocks in or falling in that we rarely let her play by herself out there. Definitely some great learnings for me.

  • Shannon @ Of The Hearth

    I love these suggestions!
    I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so it’s a challenge sometimes to give my little one time and space to do things on her own. I know how important this is, though, and I do love seeing her accomplish things.

  • Debbie

    Hi Jennifer, there is that window when young children want to be helpful and independent, it’s natural and as long as it’s safe it should be encouraged. Allowing children to clean up after themselves and take a little responsibility for their own personal hygiene is setting them up for the future in a positive way.

    Allowing children to dish up food for themselves teaches them portion control and leaving them alone to play outside encourages their creativity.

    Some great suggestions!


  • Jen@JENerallyInformed

    I love this! With 4 kiddos in my house, they just have to learn to do things for themselves and help out or it won’t get done. I can’t help everyone with everything. I have been very amused by their “outfits” over the years. My 7 year old daughter is wearing one very interesting outfit as I type this.