From “Only Child” to “Oldest Child”: Encouraging Independence After Baby

A few months ago, my only child became my oldest child.  

My daughter will turn five years old in May. Still young, but now that we have a baby at home it’s as if she is growing up right before my eyes and doing it quickly. Not because I want her to, but because SHE herself is choosing to.

Becoming a big sister has lit a spark in her. A spark that has pushed her to want to be more independent, to have more responsibility, and a spark that I feel needs to be encouraged in order to remain lit.

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It started with little things such as her offering to help me without having to be asked. Things like getting me a burp rag when she saw I was about to feed her brother, helping clear the table after dinner, or helping me fold the laundry.

Then I started noticing more. She was doing things without asking for help or without us having to tell her to do it. Putting on her shoes, zipping her coat, picking out her clothes for school, remembering to brush her teeth, getting herself dressed and even making her bed. It wasn’t happening all of the time, but it was happening. 

Countless times before I’ve said to her, “You are going to be five years old. You can put on your coat by yourself,” or “You don’t need my help. Try to do it on your own.” Now, she’s actually trying, and I have found myself having mixed feelings about this new stage in her life. Torn about fostering this newfound desire of hers to do things on her own and accepting that she doesn’t always need me. 

We want our kids to be independent, right?  

When they are little we say to ourselves, “Gosh I can’t wait until he/she can do things by themselves and I don’t always have to help.”  Then it actually happens…  

Her desire to be independent has only continued to grow, and she’s wanting to try and do more things with as little helps as possible. Do I allow her to try? Do I always encourage?  

Or do I say, “No, I’ll do it.” Do I continue to do things for her and help her if she’s struggling?  

Those are the questions I seem to keep asking myself.

Accepting the fact that your “baby” doesn’t always need you anymore is hard.

I’m sad…yet I’m very proud.  Deep down, I’ve been wanting her to do more things on her own. I knew at some point she’d be capable of it. The when was always the unknown factor.

I’ve decided that if she’s ready to be more independent, than I need to be ready and allow her to do so. When our children take the first step, we need to follow along. We need to be there to praise them and provide them with the guidance they are looking for. As the parent, we are going to be the ones they are looking at for reassurance that what they are doing is good.

I’m not sure I was expecting my daughter to take this step so soon.  Is there a right or a wrong time for children to take on more independence in their day to day lives? Can giving them more responsibility take away from their youth? I don’t think so.

Responsibility is a learned skill. Independence is a learned skill.

I’ve chosen to run with it help her learn. If she wants to help, I’m going to let her. Even if it’s a small job, she beams with pride when I thank her and tell her how much I appreciate her help.   

If she wants to make her own bed, I’m going to allow it. Even if my OCD of a nice, smooth comforter gets in the way. I’m not going to fix it or re-do it. I’m going to clap my hands and tell her how great it looks.  

If she’s ready for more responsibility then I’m going to gently give it to her.  But I’ll still be there, ready to help and guide when she needs it.

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Like it or not, if we continue holding our children’s hands, they’ll never fully be able to soar.  Ready or not…here comes Little Miss Independent!

How do you encourage your children to have more responsibility and be more independent?

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