Understand developmental milestones

Before you can encourage your child's independence and learning, you need to understand what they're capable of. You'll just set your child up for failure if you expect them to do things they aren't developmentally ready for. 

While there are general guidelines for developmental milestones, each child will progress through them at their own rate. All children benefit from being cared for by adults who understand developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) principles such as:

  • Children develop best within secure relationships.
  • Children learn in different ways.
  • Play is how children learn self-regulation, language, thinking skills, and social skills.
  • Children learn when they are challenged.

Establish predictable routines

A routine is different from a schedule. Even if you're not a by-the-clock parent, you can establish consistent routines for your child. Routines are just consistent steps in an event, such as getting ready for school. When children know what comes next, they are better able to take on responsibilities. By experiencing the same routine every day, they learn to anticipate what comes next and do it themselves. 

Once your child knows what comes next in their routine, you can start letting them take over parts of it and then gradually turn it all over to them. This lets them know that you have faith in their abilities but are there to help them if they need it.

Let your child help you

Though it's usually easier to do things yourself, letting your child help sets the stage for later independence. Young children love to help with cooking and other household chores. By letting them help you, you can boost their confidence while teaching them useful skills. 

Reading a recipe with a child helps encourage literacy. Counting and measuring help with math concepts. As they grow, your children will develop the attention span and skills to contribute more significantly. 

Give your child chores

Most adults view chores as a tedious but necessary part of life. Children, however, are often excited and eager to do chores. Even if your child's enthusiasm fades, there are many benefits to expecting your child to do household chores. Some of the ways assigned chores can benefit your child include:

  • Learning organizational skills
  • Learning time management skills
  • Learning responsibility
  • Developing a sense of purpose
  • Developing self-discipline
  • Creating a sense of competence
  • Learning skills needed to function independently

Read aloud to your child

If you want to encourage your child's learning, there's no better way than reading to them. Regardless of family background or income level, children whose parents read to them score better in language, math, and thinking skills.

Reading aloud to your child is the best way to develop their vocabulary and grammatical understanding. Children's books are more likely to contain new words than the routine conversations you have with your child. The earlier children are introduced to a word, the more likely they are to retain it as part of their vocabulary.

Talk to your child

Talking to your child as a baby increases their verbal skills and IQ in their teenage years. Conversations between the ages of 18 and 24 months are particularly important. Talking and listening also play important roles in your child's school success. Children who don't experience a lot of conversations at home often have problems learning to read, which leads to other learning difficulties in school. They can also have problems listening and following directions in school.

You don't have to talk about lofty concepts like physics or philosophy with your child. Just talk to them about what's going on in their lives. Talk about things you see as you're running errands. Talk to them about what's going on at school and what they're learning. Let your child know that what they have to say is important to you. When your child wants to talk to you, stop what you're doing and pay attention. Ask relevant follow-up questions.

Show your child you think school is important

Make sure your child knows you think their education is a priority. One of the best ways to do this is to make sure they stay on top of their homework. You can do this by:

  • Providing a space for them to do their homework, such as a desk or a corner of the dining room table.
  • Making sure they have the supplies they need to complete their assignments such as paper, pencils, and reference books.
  • Setting aside a regular time for homework.
  • Eliminating distractions such as television during homework time.
  • Showing an interest in what your child is learning.
  • Being positive and encouraging.  

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Medically Reviewed on 1/31/2022
References
Sources:

Michigan State University: "Developmentally appropriate practice: Knowing about child development and learning."

Child Mind Institute: "How to Build Independence in Preschoolers."

KidsHealth: "Cooking with Preschoolers."

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: "Chores and Children."

EdSource: "Study says reading aloud to children, more than talking, builds literacy."

University of Melbourne: "Reading to Young Children: A Head-Start in Life."

LENA: "New research says how much you talk with babies is linked to their IQ in adolescence."

U.S. Department of Education: "The Basics -- Helping Your Child Succeed in School."