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 | By Dr. Cathleen McGreal

I Do It Myself!

How to Deal With Young Children’s Growing Independence

During the collection at Mass young children come down the aisles to drop off their coins and items for the food pantry. Observing the parents holding little hands, it is striking how much variation there is in the timing of parenthood. Parents may be from GenX or GenY but they face similar challenges. When it comes to parenting issues, the child’s age often is more important than the parent’s age!

Clothe yourselves with patience!

It’s delightful to watch the emerging sense of self-awareness as babies become toddlers. If you put a new hat on her head and she notices it in a mirror, she will reach up to touch her own head rather than reach for the “child” in the mirror. With this understanding comes autonomy, a desire to make decisions about one’s own actions. “Do it myself” becomes a common chant requiring an earlier starting times for the simplest of errands. Caring for a young child becomes embodied prayer, requiring stores of patience.

• Establish routines so that transitions from one activity to another are clear and there is predictability.

• Redirect children’s attention toward desirable activities.

• Give feedback on what you like about children’s behaviors: Catch them at their best rather than giving attention for negative behaviors.

Encourage Intrinsic Motivation.

New emotions can be seen as he looks proudly at a sock that is halfway on a foot or shows a look of shame if an older child teases that he uses fat “baby” crayons. Negative comments tend to hinder exploration and produce shame.

• Acknowledge intrinsic enjoyment of different activities. Smiles, hugs and eye contact show recognition of his feelings.

• External rewards may take away intrinsic pleasure as your child gets older. Self esteem often comes from self-evaluation rather than excessive external praise.

• Experiences of “flow” in which we are absorbed in challenging tasks occur during recreation and work. Make sure your child has age-appropriate chores.

Remember to be a Couple!

When you are busy being Mom and Dad, you may forget that you are first husband and wife. To keep yourselves on track:

• Even if it is a 15-minute period each day, set aside time just for each other.

• Find a babysitter and have a date night; you deserve it!