Five Steps to Cultivate Self-Help Skills in Children
By: Chan Ka Mun, Carmen, Chief Principal
In a child’s growth, the gradual development of self-help skills lays a solid foundation for building a confident self-image and independent learning ability. How parents should "let go" to allow children to develop essential life skills and self-help awareness is worth exploring.
As young children grow, they recognise their world through their senses. They try to control their bodies to make different movements. A baby at a few months old already tries to grasp objects with their hands. When they hear a sound, they will look for the source of the sound, their eyes will be fixed on interesting things, and they will try to put everything in their mouths to discover the taste and texture of different objects.
The following are five simple steps that encourage children in self-help skills.
Step 1: Feeding Themselves
When young children begin to perceive the world through their senses, parents and caretakers must ensure that they explore in a safe and hygienic environment, thereby developing self-care skills. When children enter their complementary feeding stage, please encourage them to examine the texture of food with their hands before eating it and then put it in their mouths to discover the food tastes. This will gradually help them establish the awareness and skills of eating by themselves. When children become interested in tableware, let them try eating with an appropriately sized and child-safe spoon. Young children's mealtime can be very messy, but this is just a process. Parents, caregivers, and grandparents need patience and forbearance. Practice makes perfect, and children will gradually master the skills. This will be a remarkable and memorable experience for all parents.
Step 2: Drinking Water from a Cup
It is a relatively smooth transition for children to drink from a bottle to a beaker. However, moving from a beaker to an open cup would be more challenging as they lack the experience and hand coordination to tilt an open cup. They may be nervous or scared of accidentally spilling the water. At this time, the reaction and attitudes of adults are critical. Adults can be gentle and specific when a child accidentally knocks over a water cup or soaks his clothes. Adults may gently say, "drink slowly", "hold the cup with both hands", etc. Adults can lightly support the bottom of the cup and support the child's back in the early stages to prevent excessive movement or rapid drinking. It is important to let children try more and not be afraid of mistakes. They will learn from mistakes.
Step 3: Encourage Children to Use the Toilet
Controlling your bowel movement and urination is a natural physiological skill; each child's development and training are different. Therefore, adults should pay attention to whether children are interested or motivated to use the toilet when deciding when to begin potty training. Parents should not feel that the child is still very young and delay the timing of potty training. Wearing and changing diapers will invisibly make young children dependent on adults. Additionally, it may affect their self-image and hinder their natural physical development. All children will experience the situation of wetting their pants. Parents do not need to worry and must not scold or hit them. Too much scolding will significantly reduce children's initiative and self-confidence and reverse the development of self-help ability. Families should try to arrange days when they do not go out for training at home so that children can adjust and learn to use training pants when going out. Immediate praise and encouragement can increase the desire to practice and remember to be patient with them.
Step 4: Awareness of Personal Hygiene and Cleanliness
Paying attention to one’s appearance is an act of courtesy. Before going out, the adults dress up their children neatly and comb their hair nicely. However, how long can a young child maintain a neat appearance without the help of an adult? Wiping their mouth, brushing their teeth and washing their hands before and after eating are young children's most basic self-help skills. Parents can use a mirror to teach their children the steps of wiping their mouths and brushing their teeth, and they can also learn how to wash their hands with handwashing songs or picture books. However, too much attention to cleanliness will make children more sensitive to new things, and resistance to touching different textures will hinder children's learning. Therefore, adults need to assist moderately and avoid over helping children.
Step 5: Properly put on and off a mask
Children are natural observers and imitators. School teachers and parents need to lead by example and teach children the importance of wearing masks to protect themselves and others. In doing so, children will understand that this is an effective defense measure against viruses. We can teach children the steps of removing and wearing masks through personal demonstrations and trying to put on and remove masks themselves, with adults nearby to assist. Children will gradually master this through practice and repetition of the steps. At the same time, they can develop a sense of responsibility for adequately handling their personal belongings.
In conclusion, if children are willing to try doing things by themselves with parents’ encouragement, they will be more motivated to work toward achievable goals next time. There is no shortcut to cultivating a child’s self-help skills. When children become competent these life skills, they will feel that "I have grown up!" It is a joyful and pleasurable experience for both parents and children in this journey of growth and development. Finally, I hope today's children can develop the above essential self-help abilities and further expand their knowledge and skills in other fields.
Remarks: Chinese version was published in No.408 OURS Magazine in Aug., 2022