Part of the task of being parents, grandparents, guardians or others, including teachers, is that of teaching children how to care for themselves. They see themselves as being responsible for the care of children, while they learn how to take care of themselves, from infancy onward.
The web site “Family keys: teaching self-care skills to our children” offers guidelines for parents of older children.
Note that learning self-care does not just start with older children. Being aware of this, one must ask when learning self-care begins.
Note that any infant will attempt to get comfortable, regardless of what a mother or father does. He or she soon learns to roll over. Being encouraged by his or her parents, for example, while attempting to hold a bottle, reinforces that activity. Infants communicate their needs and thus try to take care of themselves by crying, making efforts to talk or showing pleasure through gurgling sounds or laughter. Infants soon mimic their parents, because it works, but at the bottom of what they do is an attempt to fulfill their basic desires and in that way, take care of themselves. Those who feel secure in their own environment learn quickly.
Do parents try too hard to care for their children?
Parents and grandparents become exhausted attempting to do virtually everything for their children and grandchildren, not realizing that the same children will try to care for themselves, if allowed to do so. For example, a child in a highchair will try to eat solid foods, perhaps making a mess in doing so, but he or she will usually succeed, at least in part. He or she will try to climb down from a highchair. During the learning process, the child will likely put almost anything in his or her mouth, play with it, toss it across the room or hide it. He or she may try to wash his or her own face and hands, or even pull off a wet diaper. It is all part of the learning process, as well as an attempt at self-care. Of course, the parent, grandparent or other, can do everything for him or her instead.
Can parents and grandparents be too over-protective with their young children? Does this inhibit the self-care learning process?
Children do not always need to be carried everywhere, even though to parents and grandparents, it often seems that way. They soon learn how to crawl, walk and run, discovering what they are able to do, as they begin to explore and expand new horizons in their worlds. Allowing them to do so and encouraging them, rather than over-protecting them or doing everything for them, gives them room to grow and develop in a healthy manner.
What about safety concerns for children while they learn to care for themselves?
Of course, safety is foremost, at every stage of the developmental and learning process. Providing a safe environment for children is vital. For example, children in day care, soon become aware of how much fun their new world can be, as they try to learn about virtually everything they can discover, see or grasp. They find out what feels, looks and tastes good, as well as what hurts them. There is no way they can learn this, unless allowed to try.
Teaching children the word ‘no’ early in life helps them to understand what they can and cannot do safely. At the same time, they learn how to take care of themselves.
Is there an ideal way or time to teach children how to care for themselves?
There is also no ideal way to instruct parents or grandparents how to teach their children or grandchildren to care for themselves. It is ultimately a parental or a designated guardian’s responsibility. In other words, although many are open to directives from others, each parent-child, grandparent-child or guardian-child situation is unique, but at the same time, it becomes a learning experience for everyone. Ideally, it is a positive one. The timing depends upon the individual child.
Children usually survive and grow up regardless of how perfectly or imperfectly they learn to care for themselves. Children taught how to take care of themselves, in turn, teach others, perfectly or imperfectly, at best.