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I’ve been thinking a lot about teaching kids independence lately. With four children aged seven and under, I need my children to be as self-sufficient as possible – and I know that they are happier being able to do more on their own as well.

I’ve learned that we have to start with the basics – you can’t learn how to tie a shoe without knowing how to lace it:

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Organization is also key. I can’t expect my kids to put away their clothes and toys if they don’t know where everything goes. I set up a very simple toy organization system, and I put sticky labels on their drawers to help them learn which articles of clothing go where.

I’ve learned to allow space for my kids to practice a little trial and error along the way. A big roadblock to getting out the door for school in time was that my kids would start to play and then be reluctant to stop playing to get ready. So we changed the rule: no playing until you are completely ready for school. Now they can play right up until it’s time to get in the car.

Sometimes my kids use learning tools a little differently from the way I envisioned – which is just fine, so long as we get to the same end result!

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Learning to tie shoes by lacing up your foot is fine. Wearing toy bins on your head instead of cleaning up the playroom? Not effective!

Some things my kids learn quickly such as putting clothes away — my three-year-old, four-year-old, and seven-year-old were all putting things where they went within a couple weeks. We were able to remove the structure (sticky notes), and they remembered what they learned. Then they got lazy about putting things where they went, so I had them help me re-organize their drawers and the notes went back up for a week. The notes have been gone for about a month now, and so far so good.

Some things are hard – and what is hard is different for different kids. For my kids, learning how to tie shoes has been a real challenge. So we got a little outside help (cute shoe-lacing tools), and we’ll keep practicing. They’ll get it eventually. Buttons are also a challenge – maybe a Button Bot is on the horizon…

How do you help your kids develop independence?