Anyone who spends time with young children will tell you they crave independence, and thrive on being able to do things for themselves. Responding to children's natural drives is exactly what our ECE settings should be doing, but sometimes misinterpretation leads us to ‘miss the mark’.
Independence going too far
As with any concept, there is a risk that the pendulum swings too far. Offering no independence is unlikely nowadays, but we've certainly seen occasions where full independence is expected unrealistically, and unfairly.
The idea of independence has been taken as an absolute, and children are left to sort through emotional upheaval on their own. You may have seen this too.
In wanting to offer independence, well meaning teachers fear anything that will create ‘dependence’. Children are then left to manage their big feelings without guidance, and so they will ‘learn’ to self manage.
The issue is though, that self management comes from a core of competence, developed slowly, and with support. It doesn't come from being left alone in a struggle.
Maybe you know the expression about the importance of a child ‘standing on their own two feet’? Adults worry a child won't do that if they get used to us sitting with them through their tears, and through their fears.
Here's the thing though.
Picture the upstanding child, planting their feet to face the world independently. If we yank any support out quickly and leave them to it, they either stagger off balance significantly, or fall right over - physically and emotionally. If, however, we let them plant those feet independently in their own time, freeing themselves from support when THEY are ready, they will stand tall and strong - physically and emotionally.
We offer the very best to our children when our environments and programmes say yes to the independence our children ARE seeking.
Allowing for independence AND support
Tuning in to each child lets us know when and how much independence they need with their self care, decision making, and problem solving.
As with all needs of young children, the prescribed dosage is individual. But we also need to be saying yes to nurturing and connection, and yes to close proximity.
Our biggest yes should be letting them determine where their dependence lies, and when it gives way to being able to do, and cope with things, on their own.
In our next article we will elaborate more about independence and connection.
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