Developing Independence

Children develop in their minds, their bodies and their feelings throughout their childhood and teenage years. They all develop at different rates depending upon their genetics, their personality and how they are parented.  Your relationship with your child is important to help them to develop mentally, physically and emotionally into adulthood. 

Independence is a vital skill for your primary school child to develop – but it’s not always an easy process. 

It’s finding a balance for parents and carers to supervise appropriately to prevent unnecessary risk and injury, but still stepping back enough to allow children to solve their own problems, and support them as they develop.

Every day your child grows a little older and a little more capable of doing things on their own. As parents, we should be stepping back regularly to assess what we are still doing for our children that they could be doing for themselves. Are there things they could be doing on their own?

This could be getting dressed themselves, zipping up their own coat, remembering their sports bag.

Learning to look after yourself is an essential life skill. Being able to wash, dress, eat and toilet independently are important milestones for your child's development.

Don’t set your expectations too high, otherwise your child will feel under pressure, but don’t set them too low, either: give them the chance to do things you think they’re capable of.

Letting your child take charge of a few small household tasks is a good way to build independence. For example, you can ask them to lay the table for dinner, put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket or to ask them to tidy their room. 

When teaching these skills, its important parents are encouraging and patient. Break the routine down into simple steps. Provide gentle reminders. Resist the urge to redo what they have done independently. You could also link their chores to a reward, such as weekly pocket money, visit to the park or an activity they would like to do.

There's no legal age a child can be left home alone, but it’s against the law to leave a child alone if it puts them at risk.

The NSPCC has created a tool to help parents decide whether or not their child is ready to be left home alone. It raises questions for parents to think about, helps them to prepare their child for being left, and considers alternatives.

NSPCC website - is my child ready to be home alone questionnaire

The NSPCC advises “While every child is different, we wouldn't recommend leaving a child under 12 years old home alone, particularly for longer periods of time.

Children in primary school aged 6-12 are usually too young to walk home from school alone, babysit or cook for themselves without adult supervision. If you need to leave them home, it's worth considering leaving them at a friend's house, with family or finding some suitable childcare”