Enhancing Self-Sufficiency: Your Big Challenge

Enhancing self-sufficiency in your preschooler and teaching them personal responsibility are two of your most difficult  and necessary challenges.Children who delight in their self-care triumphs develop feelings of self-control and inner self-esteem. You play an important and critical role in helping your child develop self-sufficiency. Teaching your preschooler life-skills for self-management develops their reasoning ability, decision-making skills and allows them to feel a sense of empowerment.

Enhancing Self-Sufficiency: In Japan 

Parents in Japan regularly send their kids out into the world at a very young age. A popular television show called Hajimete no Otsukai, or My First Errand, features children as young as two or three being sent out to do a task for their family. As they tentatively make their way to the greengrocer or bakery, their progress is secretly filmed by a camera crew.In this English-subtitled segment from My First Errand, a brother and sister head out to buy groceries for first time, not without a few tears.

Self-Sufficiency 101

Daily Routines

In helping children become self-sufficient, it’s a good idea to break down complex tasks into simple steps. After you’ve been doing routines for a long time, it’s easy to forget how complicated even the most simple task can be. For example, signing your name; a piece of cake, right? Next time someone asks for your signature, try writing with your non-dominant hand. You’ll have to stop and think about pen placement, line and curve direction and size. You want to give your child his or her best chance of experiencing success, so, when teaching your child a new task, remember;easy peasy!

7 Ways to Help Your Child Be More Self-Sufficient

  •  Take Two Steps Back: If your young child dresses herself, resist the urge to say, “Why don’t you wear this shirt instead?” Say, “Good for you! You got dressed all by yourself.” If your child makes his bed, say, “Great job!” not “It still looks kind of messy.” The goal is to encourage independence, not to have photo-ready children or bedrooms
  • Make Jobs a Little Easier: Does she want to make herself breakfast, but it’s still a little too complicated? Leave out the bowl and cereal box, and place a small container of milk within reach. (A gallon is too big for little hands.) Is he overwhelmed by all the thank-you notes he’s supposed to write? Offer to help out by saying, “I’ll address the envelopes, and you can write the notes. I’ll work next to you. What music should we put on?”
  • Offer Pep Talks and Treats: Does she need a nudge to clean up her room? .Give a mini pep talk by saying, “Just think how great you’ll feel when everything’s put away. I’ll come peek in 15 minutes, OK?” Some kids find it motivating to have a kitchen timer or phone stopwatch to get them started. Others like to know there will be stickers or treats at the finish line. Since you don’t want all rewards to be edible, try giving your child a ticket for, say, 10 extra minutes of screen time.
  • Compliment the Small Steps: Positive words go a long way in establishing good habits. Let them know that little things make a big difference by saying things like “I really appreciate you rinsing out your cereal bowl,” “Thanks for hanging up the towel,” “Hooray, you remembered to put your glass into the sink,” or “It was helpful that you took your shoes into your room. You used to leave them everywhere.”
  • Deliver Praise Indirectly, Too: Speaking of praise, let your child hear you say nice things about him to someone else. For example: “Tyler cleaned out his closet. I’m so proud of him.” Or, “Cara finished another library book. Can you believe what a good reader she is?” Praise the kid who is within earshot, not the sibling who is off playing ball.
  • Have Them Help: Instead of setting the table, cooking the meal, cleaning up, and then resenting your kids for playing or watching TV, enlist one child at a time to keep you company, such as: “Aidan, you help me today, and Madison will help out tomorrow.” Give your helper clear directions, and use the time as an opportunity to build closeness, not a chance to perfect napkin-folding skills.
  •  Give Clues, Not Solutions:

“Mom, do we have any Scotch tape?”

Instead of racing over with tape, say:”Yes. It’s in the top drawer of the bureau.”

“Can you get it for me?”

“No, but after you use it, be sure to put it back, thanks.”

Try not to sound coy or scolding, just comfortably matter-of-fact. Next time, he’ll know where the tape is—or the toilet paper, the colored pencils, the batteries or whatever else he is looking for.parenting.com


 Self Sufficiency: Parents’ Big Mistake

The key to training your child to be self-sufficient is waiting until the child is ready to learn. One of the mistakes parents make when trying to teach their child independence is with toilet training. The term implies that you “train” your child to perform this task and that’s not the case. Around the age of 2, children will train practically train themselves in a relatively short period. Trying to train your child before the age of 2 is difficult. But, for some reason, parents’ associate toilet training as a measure of their successful parenting. And for this reason, and probably convenience, they begin toliet training before their child’s ready. This practice is a recipe for failure. Power struggles between the two of you will make this period a nightmare for you both. He or she must be mentally capable of understanding the usefulness of this skill and physically capable of achieving it. Mastering these skills should be your child’s success, not yours.

Raising self-sufficient kids isn’t just about your child making their bed, taking out the trash or setting the dinner table.

Self-sufficiency involves you telling your child what you expect and their commitment to meeting your expectations. Children age three- 5 years of age tend to forget things. So. it’s important to remind them daily of what you expect of them, why it’s important and let them know the consequences of not going with your flow.I’ll talk more about consequences for children in my next post, “Teaching Children Honesty, Compassion and Respect for Others”.



Until Then,



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  • SafariOnTheBlog

    I love this blog. Such a fun blog! I shared it with family and friends. With regard to teaching children to be self-sufficient, I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you for your excellent post.

    • I’m so happy you enjoy the posts! Thank you for sharing them with your family and friends.

  • Beth – http://EncoreWomen.com

    I worked hard at biting my tongue! When my son was about 7 he actually went to a nearby store to buy a gift for me – a little green plaque that said “Mothers are not for leaning on but for showing you that leaning is not necessary.” I was thrilled that he knew that.

  • I don’t have any kids, so I don’t know how my parenting style would be.

    • No one does, until the moment arrives. And, with each child it’s a whole different ball game.

  • Catarina Alexon

    Absolutely, Being raised to be self sufficient is crucial. Ever since I was a child my father used to tell me I would marry very well. But despite that he was adamant that I had to have a good education so I could support myself no matter what happened.

  • I remember sitting with my mother as a teenager and looking at old pictures. We came across a picture where I was wearing a bright red shirt, hot pink shorts and flip flops. I asked my mother how she could have possibly go out of the house like that. She said we were practicing my actually dressing myself. lol. Luckily my style choices have gotten a bit better since then.

  • With regard to teaching children to be self-sufficient, I couldn’t agree with you more regarding all the points you mention. If we don’t set this paradigm when our children are young, they will not have adequate self-esteem, life skills, and independence as young adults. The video, “Enhancing Self-Sufficiency: In Japan,” is absolutely adorable. I never see children that young running errands without an adult. Unfortunately, it probably wouldn’t be safe for children to be alone outdoors in the western world. Thank you for your excellent post.

    • Thank you for your comment. It’s interesting and educational observing parenting styles within different cultures. We can all learn from one another.

  • Mahal Hudson

    I don’t have kids yet. Learned a lot from here but I guess I won’t know until I’m actually teaching my children how to be self-sufficient.

    • Your’e right Mahal, you don’t know . It’s like being in school and then actually getting the job.

  • William Rusho

    I do not have any children, so can only comment from afar.
    I must say that making them self reliant seems like a very important step. It must be a razor’s edge knowing when the time is right.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Sometimes, you just have to see what happens. The good news is, if one thing doesn’t work you can always try again.

  • Rose m Griffith

    Such a fun blog! I shared it with my niece-in-law/nephew. Perfect for their 4 year old daughter (crazy independent already) and the starting-to-get-there son who is 2.5. Total entertainment watching these kiddos grow.

    • I bet, this is my favorite age. Jam packed with surprises and mayhem.

  • Pamela, reading this I thought about one of our granddaughters. She was so precocious that when she turned two she had received a bunch of new clothes. She checked everything out carefully and when she came to a certain sweater remarked “This looks big”. That cracked me up. I couldn’t believe she came out with that. No lack of self-sufficiency there.

    • I’m telling you Lenie, when it comes to fashion, little girls learn have it down.

  • Phoenicia

    Great blog!

    Children need ongoing encouragement. If we do not teach them independence – how will they learn for themselves?

    As you stated, it starts with the small things and you can slowly build them up.

    It is easier to do tasks yourself and I gave to stop myself. It takes patience to wait for a child to complete a task in 5 minutes when it takes you 1 minute.

    I feel uneasy at allowing a two/three year old to leave the house by themselves. In my opinion it is far too young. I know they are being followed from a distance but still.

    • Thank you Phoenicia. I know I did the same thing. I think it’s an unconscious mom thing. I learned my lesson when my son was four years-old and he asked me, “Why do you make my bed after I made it already’?

  • Never too early to give kids the space to grow up.

    • Yes, as long as it’s a space that’s adjustable. No, infinity pools : )

  • I learned a lot about how to offer encouragement in the years I spent in the classroom. At first, I was very prone to point out flaws or other ways of doing something. That shuts people down so quickly. It didn’t take long before I started to focus on what was done right. That makes later criticism much easier to take.

    • That’s very true.I found that if I asked myself, “what is my intent’? or “HOw do I want this person to feel” before I commented it helped restructure my words. It’s surprising how often our comments are about our own issues.

  • Since my kids were little, I have always encouraged them to learn how to do new tasks in our home like cook their own meal, clean their own room, get rid of stuff they don’t want, etc…. I felt that being about to take care of yourself and be responsible for yourself helps in life. The kids don’t think it is important but hopefully when they are adults, they will appreciate how much they know. Thanks for sharing.

    • Your kids are fortunate Sabrina. Valuing in what is, “yours” is is a high ranking inner self-esteem quality.

  • Jacqueline Gum

    Ha! I wish my mother had read this when I was a kid! I remember having to remake my bed at least three times a day before she was satisfied! Though I can’t remember any hurt feelings over that demand. Only that I was aggravated that she was so hard to please!

    • I remember when my son was 5 years old. After he made his bed, I smoothed out some of the bedding. He turned to me and said, “You want me to make my bed but when I do you re-make it” I learned a big lesson in that moment. Maybe your mom was a Nun in her former life? 🙂