Every Friday in March I’ll be exploring Montessori and Independence and looking at ways to support your child towards autonomy. In this first post I’m examining the link between independence and self esteem and discovering that it is not something that can be achieved in school.
“If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs in a way that is clearly understood, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts.”
Read that again.
So often parents hear Montessori and think it is something that can be bought; a set of materials on artfully arranged shelves. Or worse they think it is a list milestones to race towards.
Montessori and Independence
Independence is one of the corner stones of Montessori. A quick glance inside any prepared environment, be it a preschool or a home, will reveal toddlers and young children who are capable, competent and busy living their own lives seemingly free of adult interference.
Notice that in her quote Maria did not mention the importance of the classroom or the traditional pursuits of academic Montessori. When it comes to enabling independence Dr Montessori places the responsibility firmly on home.
Independence and Self Esteem
Parents know that self-esteem is important, what may come as a surprise is how early it is established. A recent study found that “By age 5 children have a sense of self-esteem comparable in strength to that of adults, self-esteem tends to remain relatively stable across one’s lifespan, [and] this important personality trait is already in place before children begin kindergarten. It is a social mindset children bring to school with them, not something they develop in school.” (Source)
So self-esteem is already pretty firmly established by the age at which Montessori deemed children ready for formal education. This makes the role of independence at home even more important.
But what has being independent got to do with your child’s self-esteem? The answer lies in self-correction. A child who is given the tools, time and trust to attempt independence is continually practising self-correction. They are stretching their skills, learning their limits and reaping the rewards of their abilities. It is this knowledge of themselves that brings about confidence. Without the constant reinforcement of the message “You are weak and helpless, I am more skilled” that comes from relying on more capable people a child becomes confident in themselves and secure in their self-sufficiency.
They learn that even if their independence is limited they are still in control of their own life.
Early independence means doing as much as you are capable of and assessing where you will need help. Crucially early independence is NOT struggling to do everything for yourself or being pushed to do it before you’re ready. That will have the opposite effect of undermining your esteem.
As an example Alfie still needs to hold both my hands to walk down the stairs. Every time we arrive at a set of steps he attempts them while holding just one hand before reaching for the second. This pause and assess approach shows me that he is confident in his abilities and able to make independent choices that suit his skills and allow him to be as independent as possible.
Other Benefits of Independence
Aside from the life long benefit of high self-esteem there are many other benefits that come from allowing your child to be independent.
- Collaborate with parents instead of controlling them – a child who is allowed to do things for themselves will not encounter the power struggles of trying to force a parent to do things the way or when they want them done
- Intrinsically motivated – a child who knows they ‘can’ will be far more like to get up and ‘do’ than a child who has absorbed the message that they are weak; independent children are more self-motivated than others.
- Able to make decisions – having spent a life time judging situations and how they relate to their abilities and limitation while assessing pros and cons an independent child is secure in their intelligence and reasoning and can make and commit to decisions with greater ease.
- Willing to take risks and explore – their personal motivation and ability to make decisions will give children the boost they need to try new things without anxiety, that is not to say they will be reckless, in fact the opposite – they will have the sense to keep themselves on the right side of safety as they adventure onwards.
How to Encourage Your Child To Be Independent
Independence comes by increments, every step of a task that is mastered strengthens a child’s sense of self-confidence. So how can we use a child’s natural drive for independence to build them a firm foundation of self-esteem?
Here are five ways to encourage independence at home.
- Slow down – give yourself extra time to complete chores and run errands so that there’s time for your child to get involved.
- Break it down – everything you do is a series of tiny steps, begin breaking these down and let your child learn full tasks by mastering each tiny step one at a time.
- Scale down – put the items your child likes to use or will likely need on low shelves and provide tools that are a good fit for their little hands
- Back down – don’t assume your child is helpless! Like the example of Alfie with the stairs if I picked him up at every staircase I would be communicating he was helpless and damaging his self-esteem. Let your children try and let them fail, be there to pick up the pieces.
Next Friday I’ll be looking at Montessori and Independence; Self Care for Toddlers. In the meantime join us on Facebook or Instagram where I’ll be posting samples of how we make toddler independence a reality.