6 Ways to Support Independence in Young Children

When it comes to most asked questions in my inbox, ‘how can I help my child to become more independent?’ is up there. It’s a common cause of frustration for parents who desperately need a break and are wondering when things get a little easier.

The truth is this: independence doesn’t happen overnight. There isn’t a magic wand that can suddenly make children become independent. It’s about developing skills over time. It’s about checking your own role and assessing whether you are providing the right tools and support for your child.

Here are 6 Ways to support your child on the way to independence:

The earlier you start helping to foster independence, the better. There is no reason why a 2 year-old can’t try to put on her shoes. There’s no reason why a 3 year-old can’t help in the kitchen. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can support independence at home.

independence happens when you give children plenty of opportunities - unpacking the groceries for example

Check your home environment – is it child friendly? does it help foster independence?

It’s time to audit the house! Look around and consider the following:

  • can my child get dressed independently? are the clothes accessible?
  • can my child reach the bathroom sink to wash their hands?
  • can my child get a drink or snack without asking?

If the answer is no, then you need to make your space more child friendly. Move clothing to the bottom drawers of dressers. Add stools to the kitchen and bathroom so that you child can become more independent.

Allow them to contribute around the house

Young children love to help around the house, so let them! If they want to help chop vegetables for dinners or fold the laundry, let them do a simple job. It makes them feel accomplished and guess what? The more they do these roles, the better become. Easy jobs for toddlers and pre-schoolers include:

  • feeding a pet
  • matching socks
  • sweeping the floor

Pause before helping them

It’s very easy to swoop in and immediately help a struggling child – whether they’ve asked for it or not! Sometimes it’s just as much about saving ourselves some time. However. the more we swoop in, the quicker our children give up.

If your child is struggling with their coat zipper, wait. Allow them some time to figure it out for themselves. If you see them growing frustrated, offer some advice by talking them through the action first.

Provide a play space that encourages independent play

Play and independence in children go hand-in-hand. This is because play is how children figure out the world around them. It is crucial for their development. Having a play space that is filled with open-ended toys that are organised neatly will help you child to a) play for longer independently and b) understand where things need to go once they are done playing.

Reframe your thinking  and offer encouragement

Children are enormously capable. Sometimes it’s easy to see our children as ‘too little’ or ‘too slow’ – we lose patience (mainly because we are so busy) and rush in to just do everything ourselves. But the problem is, they then don’t learn and we get increasing frustrated with having to do all the things.

Here are some ways to reframe your thinking and offer encouragement:

  • Instead of ‘just let me do your zipper!’ try ‘your trying so hard, let me help you get started and you can pull it up the rest of the way.’
  • Instead of ‘give your snack to me, I’ll open it,’ try ‘I can see that its tricky to open, let me rip the top and you can open it the rest of the way.’
  • Instead of ‘I’ll just get a drink for you.’ try ‘let’s place the stool close to the sink and move the cups to the bottom cupboard so  you can reach them better in the future.’ 

When your child does achieve a task independently, try to keep your praise focused rather than generic. For example, ‘great job!’ or ‘good girl!’ isn’t at all specific. Instead try:

  • You worked so hard to get that zipper pulled up all by yourself!
  • It was hard figuring on which shoe goes on the correct foot but your worked it out!
  • Your hands were dirty after playing in the mud but you knew to go to the sink to wash them.

Help your child to develop the necessary skills for independence

All of these independence tips work best when your child has the hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills to achieve tasks independently. Again, this takes time and will depend on your child’s age and developmental stage.

The best way to develop these skills is through play! There are plenty of ideas over on my Pinterest page where I post daily activities that I do at home with my own children. You can follow me and access the activities here.


Sian Thomas
an image of This Playful Home founder, Sian Thomas. The photo includes a photo of her daughter when she was around 18 months old

I’m Siân (rhymes with yarn), a play advocate, proud parent to three, and former teacher. My mission is to infuse more joy and less overwhelm into the lives of parents. Discover play-based activities with me that not only make learning FUN but also forge deep connections with your young learners, creating memories to cherish forever.