Saturday, 15 December 2012

Self help skills

Sometimes children just want to be looked after.

As adults we all want to be looked after sometimes. Children are the same. It seems that we as carers or parents are often trying to out do each other in insisting that children develop self help skills as quickly as possible. We are constantly asking children to be brave, be big, sit in the big girl chair, eat with a big boy spoon, sleep on a mattress or put their own shoes on. Are we considering the possible negative impacts of what we're doing, or are we attempting to use children's abilities as evidence of our own competence as educators.

Children are wired to want to achieve competence and become independent (Google Erikson's Stages of Development), however the achievement of self help skills must be appropriate for the child's age and level of development. Having expectations for children's achievement that are beyond their capabilities has the potential to lead to feelings of inadequacy and compromise the child's dignity.

Giving children the opportunity to develop self help skills that are at a level that is appropriate to their development is essential and builds self-esteem (Google Vygotsky - scaffolding). It's important that we see children as competent and have high expectations for their learning, but we must be aware of the significant range of difference in age-group and developmental level in the groups of children in our care. I've found in my adult life that stepping out of my comfort zone is fantastic for developing confidence, however jumping into the deep end can cause psychological distress. Children are much more vulnerable.

I've seen carers insist that children make their own beds because they have the skills. They will make the child remain on his/her mattress for as long as it takes for the child to complete this task. It's fantastic that we've taught children the skills and that they can use them most of the time. A child may be able to put his shoes on but sometimes he just wants us to put them on for him. He wants to know that we care and that he can rely on us to care for him. An example is when children try to cope with the existance of a new sibling. Some children will regress in their development because they feel that the baby is recieving more care and comfort than they are. They may start having toiletting accidents, tantrums, or regressing in their spoken language.

Children need security in order to feel confident enough to step out of their comfort zones. There's no rush to get them out of a cot and onto a big boy mattress. The cot provides security. So does the high-chair. Children will want to progress to the next step when they feel confident. We need to give children lots of encouragement and opportunities to develop their independence, but we also need to remember that they will have plenty of time to be grown up and take care of their own needs. Childhood is a time for children to develop the emotional skills to be able to provide support, care and love to themselves and to others. They will learn this from our example.

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