How to Teach Your Child to be Self-Reliant

by pearlyshells

Self-reliance results in self-confidence, high self-esteem, and strong sense of responsibility.

At birth the baby is totally dependent on his parents or their caregivers. The human child needs years of nurturing before he can even begin to fend for himself.

Learning self-reliance specifically includes toilet training, lessons in cleanliness and good grooming, learning to eat properly, as well as being able to help with simple household chores. To the child it means being able to do things for himself, being able to take care of his simple needs, and being prepared to face new situations and cope with problems as they arise. It results in self-confidence, a high self-esteem and a strong sense of responsibility.

How do you teach your child self-reliance? Below are hints and suggestions to help you along.

Remember to impress on him the importance of self-reliance. And be sure to allow him enough time to practice and learn.

Toilet Training

Toilet training involves the control of urinary and bowel movements and the proper use of the toilet. It begins at 1 1/2 to 2 years when the child can express his need to relieve himself. Below are suggested activities to teach the child to tell when he is about to urinate or move his bowels as well as how to use the toilet in order to keep himself and the house clean.

Remember that urinating and defecating are natural bodily functions and must not be cause for the child's anxiety or tension. Do not hurry or force toilet training. Do not fret if the child progresses slowly so long as he progresses.

Train the child to let you know when he has to go to the toilet (1 1/2 to 2 years)

  1. Teach him easy words for urinating (e.g., "wee-wee") and defecation (e.g., "poo"). He can be taught the proper words later. Say the words while he is urinating or moving his bowels.
  2. Request the family to inform the child when they need to go to the bathroom so the child will follow their example. Praise him for doing so and do not scold when he soils his pants.
  3. Let the child wear panties or briefs or shorts instead of diapers when he is up and about to accustom him to less absorbent clothing. Explain that these garments are not supposed to be soiled.

Train the child to use a trainer seat (12-17 months)

  1. Do this only when the child's bowel movements have become regular. Anticipate his bowel movement so that you can sit him on the trainer seat on time.
  2. Place the child before the trainer and help him to sit down. Then let him sit himself. Show him how to use the arms of the seat for support.
  3. Teach him by example. Sit on a chair and tell him to sit on the trainer seat.
  4. Reward him with kisses and hugs.

Train the child to clean himself after moving his bowels (1 1/2 to 2 years)

  1. Teach him to squat or sit on his haunches. Set objects on a table low enough to require the child to squat in order to pick them up. Get him to collect the things in a box. Or roll or kick a ball for him to pick up on his haunches.
  2. When he can sit on his haunches, teach him to reach down to his anus. Show  him how to use toilet paper to clean himself after moving his bowels.

Train the child to seek help when he needs to go to the toilet (2 years)

  1. Instruct the child to ask for help when he has to go to the toilet. In an unfamiliar place, show him where the toilet is. Commend him for asking to be brought there.

Train the child to go to the toilet by himself (3 years)

  1. Show him where and how to urinate and defecate. Explain how important using the toilet is to health and cleanliness.
  2. Reiterate how important it is to care for himself.

Dressing Up

Learning to put on his clothes, socks and shoes after a bath or to change into fresh clothes begins at around two years. At approximately four years old, he can be taught to button up, open and close zipper, buckle his shoes and tie his shoelaces. He will then no longer need help in dressing up, thus reducing his dependence on others. But you can still help him choose his clothes. Talking about colors and styles will not only make dressing up more interesting but will also teach him to coordinate his clothing. Dressing up can also be a means for learning colors, numbers, shapes, etc.

Teach the child to put on a shirt or blouse or dress

  • The best beginners' clothes are sleeveless shirts and dresses that open in front and shorts with gartered waistbands. Show the child the front side of the garment. Put one arm through one armhole and leave him to put the other arm through the other armhole, with a little help if necessary. Next, just hold the garment for him and let him get into it.

Teach the child to put on a T-shirt

  • Hold the T-shirt so he can put it on correctly. Show him how to put his arms through the sleeves before slipping his head through the neckhole.
  • Teach the child how to tell a T-shirt's front and back so that he can put on correctly. Be patient. Give him all the time he needs to do it right.

Teach him to deal with socks and shoes

  • Begin with over-sized, easy-to-slip-on pairs. Put the socks on halfway and let him pull it up the rest of the way. Then put it on just over the toes and let him do the rest.
  • Show him the parts of the socks where toes and heels should fit properly.
  • Follow the same procedures for shoes. Once he has mastered the over-sized pairs, he can put on socks and shoes his own size.


Cleanliness and Good Grooming

Between four and five years old, the child must be taught to do the following for himself: use the toilet, bathe, dress up, button his clothes, buckle and tie his shoes, use a spoon and fork, eat and drink, comb his hair, brush his teeth, wash or wipe his face, clean his ears, and keep himself clean. These are best taught through actual demonstration and good example. It is important to monitor the child's progress in these aspects of gaining self-reliance.

Make a chart to mark your child's progress. The chart should be as simple as possible and hung in a conspicuous place. Divide it up by days of the week and list one or two specific goals. Every time he achieves one or both goals without your help, make a notation on the chart, using a symbol of his choosing, such as a star or a happy face.

Commend the child whenever an entry is made and encourage the rest of the family to do so too. If his behavior does not live up to expectations, leave the space empty and tell him that you hope he will do better the next day.

Seeing the chart fill up can be reward enough for your three-year-old, but an older child will need the reinforcement of a daily or weekly reward. The nature and quantity of the reward should be mutually agreed upon before hand.

Once he has successfully achieved his goals, take down the chart and, if you both agree, hang a new one with goals in another area of development. Be sure to reinforce each behavior by singling it out for praise.

At the same time, it is important to teach him to value cleanliness and good grooming. This is also a good time to teach him good manners.

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri
Dress up
Brush Teeth
Tie Shoe
Clean ears


Eating and Drinking Properly

Teach the child to drink from a cup

  • Put a few teaspoonfuls of milk into a cup and gently bring it to your child's lips. If he refuses to drink, try again another time. Never force him to drink.
  • Then teach him to hold the cup on the sides while you support its botton. Encourage him with praise until he learns to hold the cup with both hands.
  • To hasten the transition from bottle to cup feeding, do not let him walk around with bottle or take one to bed.

Teach him to feed himself

  • Let the child sit at table with the family to expose him to the proper way of eating.
  • Encourage the child when he tries to feed himself. Do not scold or fuss when he messes up the table. Make mealtime a happy occasion.
  • Put just enough food in his bowl and drinking glass to avoid unnecessary spillage. The child can also consume small helpings more easily.

Teach the child to use spoon and fork

  • First, help him hold the spoon then slowly allow him to hold it alone. Point out the way others hold their spoons. Show how pleased you are with his efforts.
  • Then teach him how to hold a fork and pick up bits of food with it.
  • Show him how to put food in his mouth with the use of the spoon or fork.
  • Give the child his own spoon and fork. Make him understand that he must learn to feed himself like everyone else.

Helping with Household Chores

Helping with household chores enables the child to expand and deepen his understanding of what it takes to live a comfortable and orderly life. He learns that some tasks are necessary and that all the family members must share the work load; that doing chores together strengthens the bond among family members. He learns to place a value on extending and receiving help. Moreover, he learns to trust his capabilities.

Teach the child to help with simple household chores and to follow instructions (3 to 4 years)

Some simple tasks the child at 3-4 years can do are:

  • fetch and carry small things.
  • put away his toys, clothes, shoes, etc.
  • hand over clothes for hanging on clothesline
  • pick-up scattered papers, leaves, etc.
  • help set the table

Give clear and simple instructions. Do not assign unrelated tasks or more than two related tasks or more than two related tasks at a time.

Give him a chance to finish what he is doing before allotting a new task.

Consider his capability before assigning a chore. Otherwise be ready to bail him out.

Don't forget to show your appreciation for his help.

Teach the child to do specific chores

Sweeping. The child should have his own broom to help sweep the house or yard. Show him little by little how to wield the broom more efficiently.

Dusting. Start him with dusting unbreakable objects with a rag. Once he learns to do so with care, allow him to dust breakable ones. The same is true for drying the dishes.

Setting the table. Let him help to set the table for meals. Start him with the unbreakable (spoon and fork, plastic ware, etc.). Then as he becomes more adept, he may set the porcelain plates and crystal glasses.

Preparing lunch for school. Teach him to wrap his sandwich with paper napkin or wax paper. Or to stir the milk or juice drink. He may also pour the drink into his thermos bottle or learn to pack his lunch.

Updated: 06/08/2012, pearlyshells
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pearlyshells on 06/09/2012

Thanks for the visit!

Roohi on 06/09/2012

This is good advice for new parents. Nice read!

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