Photos taken in collaboration with Kerry Cheah
As they mature and grow older, it is only natural that our little ones take time to learn that they too can do more and more things for themselves, with less and less assistance from us.
It’s not that our children are lazy and unwilling to help. After all, at just a few years of age, not too long ago, they were completely dependent on their parents as babies!
If we desire our kids to take more initiative with simple tasks and grow in independence, it is our responsibility to take the time and effort to teach them what this means and looks like.
Of course, it will be tempting to just do it for them as they will struggle on their first tries, but this will not help them learn about initiative in the long run.
Learning to take initiative is a behaviour that helps kids navigate their lives with courage and optimism. Encouraging initiative in a child helps foster a positive approach to learning, and children with positive approaches to learning are more successful academically in later life.
Research has found that young children with initiative and curiosity enable them to perform better in reading and math.
WHAT IS INITIATIVE ALL ABOUT?
Initiative is the ability to do things independently and without prompting. In simpler terms, taking initiative means acting to improve a situation without having to be asked to do so, or asking someone else to do so.
For example, if you notice that something has fallen to the floor, you might take the initiative to pick it up. If you can't find something, you go and look for it yourself.
So, how can parents instil this important character in their children?
The truth is, little children are already taking the initiative as they imitate adults and naturally pick up certain actions, such as learning to feed themselves, to move around, and verbalising new words.
However, some of our parenting approaches may discourage children from developing and enhancing their abilities to take responsibility and demonstrate initiative. For example, protecting children too much can stifle these innate traits.
As your children grow older, it’s important that they learn the importance of taking initiative. This is an important character trait for kids to develop when they’re young because the motivation and persistence in achieving goals help them overcome challenges as they grow into adulthood.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
From a young age, parents can contribute to your children’s ability to take initiative in the following ways:
1. Start with easy tasks during familiar routines
Initiative can be developed through daily meal routines. During everyday mealtimes, children encounter helpful problem-solving decisions and practise habits that build independence.
Allowing children to self-feed, help set tables, prepare meals, serve meals and clean up can foster the child’s growing needs for independence and autonomy.
Expect messiness during mealtimes as children are developing their motor skills as they learn to feed themselves.
2. Make it easy to help out around the home
Practising self-help skills in their daily routines helps children develop self-esteem and a sense of themselves.
Children with more independence in self-care show greater initiative and confidence in their play and learning.
Developing a competency of any kind develops a feeling of self-efficacy, making the child eager to seek out new challenges.
3. Practise decision making together
Understanding children's needs for autonomy also means providing them with opportunities to make choices so that they can marshal their initiative to choose what to engage with.
Even very young children can cultivate initiative and persistence when they are given choices in tasks which are meaningful to them.
Young children can be given simple choices, such as choosing which book to read or which toy to play with. Toddlers could be offered choices with reasonable and acceptable alternatives.
This builds their natural inclination to exercise initiative in ways that allow caregivers to manage them and avoid power struggles.
Every time your child asks for help, makes a mess or just complains of boredom is a wonderful opportunity for them to acquire important character traits, especially as they are prompted to take initiative.
Remember, also, that it starts with you. You are your kid's best role model when teaching about initiative, so get them to watch and learn.
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