Teaching kids independence

My kids grew up with yayas. Jia’s yaya was the old school type who did everything for her. When Jia was 23 months old, she had to go to Occupational Therapy and her OT, Teacher Alta, was very firm with the rules: Jia may be accompanied by a parent or a yaya inside but she has to do things on her own. When Jia went in, she had to remove her shoes by herself and put the shoes in the rack. When it was time to go home, she had to retrieve her shoes and put them on.

That Jia can actually do that by herself was a revelation for me. Soon after, I made her eat by herself, dress herself, etc.

When Joya came, I was more conscious of making the kids do things by themselves. I think it is just part of good training to do this. After all, us parents and their yayas will not be around forever to pack away their things for them, feed them, change their clothes, etc. For me, the goal of parenting is to raise God-fearing, responsible, society-contributing individuals, and teaching kids independence (which is a basic thing) should start as early as possible. Kids don’t wake up at 13 years old very much willing to launder clothes or wash the dishes or have neat rooms; they have to taught how to do it and they have to be taught the value of hard work. Admittedly, there were are times that I would forget (or sometimes I would just be plain lazy to go on with the training) but something would remind me and I would trudge on.

A very significant factor in all the training is Jia’s Montessori school. Jia’s class does not even have a teacher’s aide who helps them pack away. Each kid is responsible for his mess and the materials he works on. Everyone is expected to pack away properly. The teacher is not a helicopter teacher; she works with one student at a time while the rest works on their own.

I realize that though my kids are nowhere near the independence that I wish they have at this stage in their lives, they are pretty independent. Nakakatuwa! The other night, Jia and I were downstairs and because it was getting late (around 9:00p.m.), we agreed to go up. She helped me pack things away and turn off the power strips and then she went up by herself while I got water. Before I went inside our bedroom, I debated whether to turn off the lights in the hallway. I decided not to because I knew I would be going out again in a while. Inside our bedroom, I asked J where Jia was. He said he sent her to her room to change clothes. I went to her bedroom (at the other end of the hall) to check on her. The door was open but the lights were turned off. Jia was there inside, changing into her pajamas. She was depending on the hallway lights as she could not reach the light switches. She had put her used clothes in the hamper and her closet was already closed. I asked her if she was okay and if she needed help. She said she was finished, got my hand, and we went to our bedroom. I was astounded that my 5 year old girl was brave enough to go inside a dark room, change clothes by herself, and pack away after herself.

So how do you actually teach a kid to be independent? I think the first and most important rule is to remember that kids are not helpless individuals. They are kids, yes, smaller than us, but very capable nonetheless. “Help me to do it myself!” is a very popular Montessori phrase. We parents have to show our kids how to do things instead of doing it for them. Is it hard to do it? Yes! Is it tiring teaching kids? Yes! Is it faster to just do it yourself? Definitely! Haha! Is it messier when they do things themselves? Oh yeah! But is it worth it! 101% YES!

There is an amazing video of a 2 year old boy Edison whose parents are both Montessori teachers. In the video (called Edison’s Day), Edison is seen doing so many things for himself. He washes dishes, he feeds the cat, he dresses up by himself with minimal supervision, etc. Edison’s dad said something that was very true, “We don’t live around him. We live with him.” That was such an eye opener!

Another important thing in fostering independence is to make sure that everything has a place. Why? So a kid will know where to put back all his things. This kinda needs a little bit of financial investment because a shelf may have to be bought but it is worth it. Someone who went to the kids’ room once asked me why I just did not have a toy chest. Well, if you just a chest for everything, you (and the kids) will just end up throwing everything inside without regard to order. Kinda teaching the kid that as long as no one can see the mess, it is okay. Plus when you need something and it is at the bottom of the box/chest, you would have to bring everything out first. Imagine the mess!

The next day, I made it a point to observe Joya (he’s 2 years old) and I was so happy with how independent he is becoming. I have been taking everything for granted that I realized I might not have appreciated his independence more. When Joya wakes up in the morning (he is the normally the first to wake up), he goes down the bed, goes out of the room, and in the hallway, calls for his yaya (he is not allowed to go down by himself upon waking up because he might be sleepy still and might tumble down). His yaya will change his nappy and he will change his clothes. They then go down together. Normally, after eating he will go up by himself and go back to our room or his room to play. During the course of the day, he will go up and down the stairs by himself around 10 times when he needs to get something from his room, when he has forgotten his slippers, etc. He and Jia always play by themselves in their room and because they are so used to it, I am not scared that something will happen to them.

To document Joya’s burgeoning independence, I took pictures of him during the day…

This is Joya putting spread on his bread. Do you notice his shirts? He was wearing two, one of top of the other! LOL! He said he wanted to wear two so he wore two! He got the shirts from his closet and put them on by himself. I just scrunched up the shirt so the neck hole will be evident and he will do the rest.


Here is Joya eating lunch. He does not like a high chair nor a booster chair so he uses our regular dining chair. He can also pour water into his cup and drink from the cup by himself. His yaya does not hover over him while eating except to make sure that his food does not have fish bones. Otherwise, he is on his own.


Here he is putting his shoes on.


At the end of the day, I was just ecstatic. Our training is paying off! I love having independent kids!

I know I have a long way to go and since I am not the tidiest person (to my husband’s eternal dismay), even making our house neat everyday is a constant struggle for me (yes, even with the yayas). But because I really believe that we should foster order and independence in our kids, I will continue to do this.

Their school gave us a list of age appropriate chores for kids early this year (no, it was not the Montessori list that has been making the Facebook rounds – their school’s list is more updated and more local with no firewoods involved. LOL!) and I studied it again to make sure I am on track.

Oh! The joys and challenges of motherhood! I think this is such an important parenting topic and something that WOHMs, SAHMs, and WAHMs can learn from. 🙂 I would love comment, suggestions, violent reactions! 🙂

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  1. Kathy Mallari says

    Thanks for sharing this! Indeed worth reading and thinking about. Just yesterday, my baby and I visited my sisters and nieces. It was really a joy to see little kids very independent and reliable at such an early age. I hope you could share the age appropriate chores list that you have so I can share to my sisters who have a 4yr old and 2 yr old girls. I thought the 2yr old was too young not to have a yaya anymore (since her yaya just left) but I guess this is an opportunity for her to start doing things in her own too. Her 4yr old cousin didnt have a yaya while growing up and she seemed so advanced and mature for her age. Im a proud Aunt! 🙂

    • says

      Hi Kathy! Thanks for dropping by the blog! Yes, it is so wonderful to see kids who can do things on their own and not to have to reply on everyone else. Di ba there is a stage when kids would always want to do things on their own? when parents don’t let them do things on their own or when parents let them do things and then correct them improperly, they get the feeling that they are helpless. It is hard to teach kids but so worth it! 🙂

      Will post the list soon. I was able to secure the permission of Jia’s school. 🙂