Empowering Them… They Can Do It Themselves

Hi, everyone.  Mama Bear here.  With our first two children, we (my husband and I) did everything for them.  Food, drinks, clothes, toys — whatever they needed we provided, whenever they needed or wanted it.  Going out?  I would dress them.  Hungry?  I would get them food.  Covers come off in the night?  I would wake and pull them back up.

After some years and some more children, I began to rethink what I was doing.  I began to notice that the more I did for them, the less confident they seemed in themselves.

When our fourth was on the way, I was stretched thin and in need of some new ideas.  I looked at the times of day when we all felt stressed and tried to find ways to empower them.  We started with hooks in the bathroom for towels, at their level so they could hop out of the tub, grab their towels, and hang them back up to dry.  From there, we tackled shoes, clothes, food, and toys.

Everything has a place... In theory, at least.

Everything has a place… In theory, at least.

We had fun and it was exciting searching for ways to empower them and to alleviate stress.  We decorated cardboard boxes for holding shoes.  Old plastic containers held toys.  The kids had a grand time standing against the wall measuring the height we needed to install hooks for coats and hats.

Hooks down low, where small bodies can reach them

Hooks down low, where small bodies can reach them

As time went on, I started letting go, letting go of the idea that if I didn’t do everything for them, I wasn’t a good mother.  This was hard for me.  I felt worthless but I couldn’t deny what I saw in front of me.  As I let go, they grew confident in themselves and became excited to try new things.

How could I deny them this beautiful growth?

At first, we went slowly, working on the small things.  I learned to trust that they would know when to ask for help.  I stopped interjecting myself as much, preferring to wait until they explicitly asked for assistance.  This made for an interesting and wonderful new relationship between us.  No longer did they simply watch me live; now, they were living right along with me.

Bath time became more about fun and silly songs than me rushing to get them all washed and dressed for bed.  Meal times became less about me preparing the food and more about them actively helping.  They were learning about nutrition as well as making their own food.  Was this messy?  You bet!

Often, I was left cleaning up a giant-sized mess, but as time went on, the messes got smaller and I soon noticed them cleaning up after themselves.  To help, I put a stool where they could reach the garbage can.  We talked about germs, how they are spread, and countless other everyday things that I already knew but never thought to tell them.

Going out was no longer an hour of preparation for me.  By empowering them to do things for themselves, we can now be headed out in as little as fifteen minutes.  Not bad with five kids, I think.

Note:  It was about two weeks of learning who wanted to do what and working out the kinks, but – wow! – was it worth it.

When it was time to clean up their toys, they enjoyed knowing where their toys went.  As they had been active participants in the process of setting up buckets and such, they felt a sense of ownership.

Cute baskets for everyone!

Cute baskets for everyone!

Did it solve all of our cleaning issues?  No, but it was a big step forward.  For me, it was a soft taste of what could be.  For them, it was all the benefits of living life instead of simply watching me live it.


5 comments to Empowering Them… They Can Do It Themselves

  • Sandra

    This is just what I needed to hear about right now.
    How can I empower a 3-4 yo to sleep, bathe and brush his teeth? I can feel inside that I need to back offl. But how? What would be the plan, besides ignoring hiegene and need for rest?

  • Kiki

    Awesome article! 🙂

  • Megan

    L.O.V.E this article!

    I’m 22 with a 2.5 year old and a 1 year old and I was only just discussing with my partner how to help make them more independent. I have a habit of needing to control what they’re doing/how and it’s not helping them and it’s making me stressed.

    But reading about something as simple as lowering bath towel hooks, a little lightbulb went off in my head. Well , duh.

    Only concern I have is that if my son (who is behind on his speech and uses sounds over words) isn’t trying to ask me for things (eg “pick up mum” “dink mum”) and he will lose some words from it. Sounds silly but knowing him, he is silent when he does things himself.

    Any advice or how it is with your toddlers would be great, thankyou!

    • Mommy24Melody

      Megan, in response to your question, I found that the kids still needed some help. When they needed it, they felt safer to ask since Mommy wasn’t being bombarded with thousands of questions at a time. This meant that they did ask me for more. The other thing is that you can provide the conversation starters. Just because he already has a drink doesn’t mean that you can’t ask him what he has. You can ask open-ended questions, and you might be surprised by the new words that show up in his vocabulary, he might begin answering that he has a “dink” or “milk” or “cup” all for the same device.

      The other thing is that I found that my level of patience in allowing them to form words directly correlated to the amount of words they learned. If I felt rushed and provided the words, they didn’t get practice figuring them out for themselves. When I sat patiently until they finished explaining what they wanted, they learned that it was safe to communicate with Mommy. I am more inclined to feel patient when the children can do more for themselves.

      I didn’t write this article, and I certainly don’t have a lot of accomplishments in this regard. I do have a snack cabinet in reach of my children, as well as having them help organize their toys. I enjoy wrapping my children in a towel hug, so their towels are not in the bathroom. But that is ok. I do some things, and the kids appreciate it. I find the right balance for my family, instead of going all out into an entirely new direction. You might choose three simple things that you can change. Each of my children has their own stepstool that they move where they need it. They have a snack cabinet. They have a clock in their room that tells them the time, so they learned that. But I keep the cups and drinks put away. I keep the towels up on the hook that we already had installed in our house. One day I would like to move my towel hooks down, but I will probably do that when we move (in the next year).

      Maybe you can find the words he is already good at, and you can provide self-reliant methods for him on those. He might use more words if he is empowered.

  • Nicole McCarter

    I never actively took this approach with my children, it just kind of happened. I have always worked full time, as has my husband. With my first son I was more of the doting mother, trying to do everything for him. However, with the three that quickly followed, I quickly learned that I can’t do everything! The end result is that I now have self confident, capable kids! They can do almost anything. My six year old can cook ramon noodles in the microwave or toast his pop tart; my 8 year old can make sandwiches for everyone for lunch, my 10 and 13 year old boys can run a load of laundry if they are running short on clothes. This is not to say that I don’t do the laundry, cook REAL meals every night, etc, but sometimes it does happen that I can’t fix them lunch or they keep their clothes in their bedroom instead of with the other dirty laundry so it gets missed! Also, the way our house is now set up, they pretty much own one end of it. They all share a bathroom and hallway. That end of the house is their deal. I don’t really have to say much to them about keeping it clean. I can just make an offhand comment about how the hallway is looking messy, and the next thing I know the kids will be cleaning their hallway and bathroom (the hallway is a huge 12’x12′ square with 6 doorways on it…it’s almost like the gathering point for the kids, lol). And typically they clean it really good!

    Just to throw this in there– my kids do have “chores”. They usually discuss what they want to/are willing to do. Typically my older boys share the kitchen, my 8 year old daughter straightens the living room, and my 6 year old son picks up any stray laundry and gathers it out of their bathroom and bedrooms. But, sometimes the kids want to shake it up. That’s when we draw names for chores. Sometimes it ends up being super silly– like the baby getting kitchen duty! But it always works out, and we turn on some music and get down to business. We, too, have a busy house, so it is never as clean as I would like! With the 4 kids and the 4 dogs, there’s always something going on! Thanks for this wonderful post!!

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