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One Easy First Lesson Toward Raising Independent, Happy Children

Once I saw a three-year old and his mother going to daycare. It was winter time, and the mom was loaded down, carrying her son, his bag, a rain coat, umbrella and his stuffed toy. That simple picture drove me crazy and made me sad for both child and parent. It was not raining and so the mom had no reason to carry the child and his entourage. I decided then and there it would be different with my child.

      In my opinion, the key to raising independent kids is to teach them responsibility and accountability. Obviously, you can’t go up to a two-year-old and say, “Listen, Alex, today you will be responsible for cleaning your room and if it is not clean, I will hold you personally accountable for it!” So instead, I am taking small daily actions that teach him these values.

      I came up with the following little nifty trick. It works for any toddler who is stable enough and comfortable enough walking on his own. In my case, it happened when my kids were about 14 months old and it always worked:  

Step 1:

For a week, start to show your toddler that mommy and daddy carry their own bags, purse, or wallet to work, store, restaurant and friends. Let your little one check the bag contents and go over it with him. (I suggest taking out any “personal” items to prevent embarrassing questions!) On a daily basis, ask your toddler to help you by putting or taking out a needed item into or from the bag. Stand by him while he gets the comb or pen for you and opens the bag and drops it in. Compliment him on a job well done! You’ll see that he is supercharged with excitement because he is “helping” you.  

Step 2:

At the end of the week, start showing your little one that big kids from his daycare and friends or relatives carry their own bags. Wouldn’t he like to have one, too? If you’ve done your job exciting him in the build-up about your bag, he’ll probably jump at the chance to be like the older kids! “Now let’s go to the store and let YOU choose your very own, because you are a big boy too!”  

Step 3:

Take him to Wal-Mart or Target. They have small carry-ons with wheels for kids. Have your child go over ALL the available bags and choose his favorite. You want your child to be as involved as possible, leading the process. Don’t choose for him. Resist the impulse to say, “Now, dear, wouldn’t you rather have this one instead?” You’d be teaching him not to have confidence in his own decisions. After choosing a bag that he wants, let your little one be in charge of actively paying for it and taking it out of the store. Let him show it off and tell everyone about it!  

Step 4:

At home, ask him to bring his favorite items–toy, stuffed animal, snack or pacifier—and place them on the kitchen table or countertop (or any other place he can easily reach). Now ask him, “What would you like to put in your new bag? Go get it!” He’ll run to get it—or all of them–as fast as his little legs will carry him. Let him open the bag and place them inside. Once the items are inside, walk around with him and let him proudly wheel his carry-on around. 

Step 5:

Leave the bag close to the door so that every time you leave the house, it will be there, reminding him to take it. You and your little one may be forgetful at first, but within two to three days, it will become second nature for him to take the bag with him. This is wonderful training for taking the bag to and from daycare everyday–not to mention that you can hitchhike on this and put the rest of his items in it as well: such as diapers, towels, food, change of clothes and more.

      Just think how this one simple habit will make life so much easier for your child and for you throughout all the school grades! I’d be so happy if the rest of you parents shared your stories and advice about helping our children become happily independent kids. You may send your stories and comments to me via my site: http://www.baracklevin.com

Barack Levin is the author of The Diaper Chronicles – A stay at home dad’s quest for raising great kids – http://www.baracklevin.com  
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