Self-Help Skills!

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

What are self-help skills?

Self-help skills are the basic skills that are needed for everyday living. They’re skills that children use for their everyday tasks such as feeding themselves, brushing their teeth, combing their hair, dressing themselves and more.

As educators one of our many roles is to support your children to develop the tools they need to eventually become independent adults. The development of self-help skills begins in early childhood and continues throughout and into the teenage years. By supporting your children early on in their first attempts at a new self-help skill, we are supporting your children to have a go at something! When your children eventually succeed, this then creates feelings of self-worth and of being capable.

At Birth we are completely dependent on others, we then move through our childhood;  which is what prepares us for the challenge of adulthood!  Along with the freedoms, pleasures & responsibilities that come with it!

There’s no magic tricks when it comes to teaching children valuable self-help skills. It is simply just a matter of patience and following a child’s lead. But by encouraging developmentally appropriate self-help skills, this then helps children in the long run. They are able to become more self-assured, accountable for their actions, and responsible as they grow and move closer to adulthood.

What are the building blocks necessary to develop self-help skills?

  • Hand and finger strength: An ability to exert force against resistance using the hands and fingers for utensil use – e.g. Scooping food from a container onto their plate.
  • Hand control: The ability to move and use the hands in a controlled manner – e.g. Being able to use a knife and fork at the same time.
  • Sensory processing: Accurate registration, interpretation and response to sensory stimulation in the environment and one’s own body. – e.g. taking off their jumper once they get to hot.
  • Object manipulation: The ability to skilfully manipulate tools, including the ability to hold and move pencils and scissors with control, controlled use of everyday tools such as a toothbrush, hairbrush, and cutlery.
  • Hand & Eye Coordination: Being able to combine object manipulation and hand controls all while visually assessing the situation – e.g., ensuring that the are brushing the right parts of their hair while watching in the mirror.
  • Expressive language (using language): The use of language through speech, sign or alternative forms of communication to communicate wants, needs, thoughts and ideas.
  • Planning and sequencing: The sequential multi-step task/activity performance to achieve a well-defined result – e.g. putting on underwear before pants while getting dressed for the day.
  • Receptive language (understanding): Comprehension of language; being able to follow instructions after listening to them.

Why are self-help skills important?

Self help skills contribute to the way in which children develop the ability to plan and sequence task performance, also to organise the necessary materials and to develop the appropriate physical control required to carry out basic everyday tasks (such as unzipping their bags, opening lunch containers).

Self help skills act as the foundations for many school related tasks as well – not just basic life skills. The term ‘self help’ would suggest that these skills are expected to be done independently and in many cases it becomes inappropriate for others to assist for such tasks (age dependent of course).

More specifically, many kindergartens  and schools will have a requirement for children to be able to complete certain every skills as an independent individual – e.g. being able to go to the toilet on their own.

When self help skills are difficult for children, this also becomes a restrictive factor for numerous other life experiences for that child.

Such as making it difficult to have a sleep over at friend’s or family’s houses, struggle to go on excursions, the child may experience bullying or even miss out on other social experiences as a result of this lack of self-help skills.

Some idea’s on how to encourage self help skills:

  • Get down to your child’s level: Start by getting down to their level and guiding your child at first and then allow them the opportunity to try completely the task independently and guide them through it, if and when needed.
  • Easy to follow Steps: For difficult tasks or when your child is starting a new skill you may want to consider breaking down each skill required into easy to follow steps. It is important that you start off with only a few steps and then increase the steps as you go.
  • Picture/Flash card timetable: For younger children, including photo’s or flash cards to go alongside the steps is a great visual aid for your child’s everyday routine.  Also remember to hang these photo’s or flash cards in the area that the skill takes place.
  • Be a good role model: As your child is learning all these new self-help skills, don’t forget to role model the proper way of completing them as to avoid confusion with your child. Be sure to follow your own instructions.
  • Offer Choices: offering choices during set routines, help’s encourage children when it comes to completing said skills. This is especially important for the little ones, as they feel like they have more independence when they have choice.  These simple choices offer independence to our children and will assist in their learning process.
  • First/then Statements: Don’t forget the ever important First/then statements when working on self-help skills.  For instance, first we will finish job “A” AND then we can go and do fun thing “B”!
  • Celebrate Successes: Make a big deal out of all their successes. Support and praise go a very long way for your child!

Don’t forget to take your child’s age, as well as their physical abilities into consideration when you are increasing your child’s range of independence. Make sure that your expectations are also realistic, as you may be setting your child up to experience failure and unnecessary frustration without even realising it!

As children go through their stages of development and start practising their self-help skills, be assured that they will always do things different and messier to yourself. But just wait and watch as your child’s confidence and ability grow. Their skills will improve with lots of trial and error, whilst also building their pride and mastering said self-help skills.

Your patience is a virtue and will be valued heavily by your child in this time of development. Remember to show appreciation for your child’s effort, concentration and ability. Relax up on any negativity and unnecessary criticism. Encouragement and positive feedback will help to drive your child towards successfully being able to fulfill their self-help skills.

The secret to success is to give your children age-appropriate experiences and then provide the appropriate level of support to help your child then be successful.

“ To become independent, children have to be confident in their own abilities, otherwise they will remain over-reliant on the support of other adults or their more confident peers.”

– Alistair Bryce-Clegg


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