Supporting Development

Developing Independence

As your child grows it is really important that they begin to learn the skills they will need as they become a bit more independent. To become independent, your child needs to be confident in their own abilities. If they are not confident in their own skills, they will remain reliant on the support of parents, carers or other adults, or their more confident friends or siblings. Every child is different, and will develop these skills at different rates.

Developing these independence skills will also really help them when they start school.

Dive Deeper

Following Instructions

Knowing how to listen and follow instructions is an important skill, and one that will help children throughout life. Have routines and boundaries at home so that your child is used to knowing what will happen next and what is expected of them.

You can help your child practice through play. Children learn more easily when they are enjoying themselves.

You could try:

  • Reading stories and doing activities that encourage sitting still together and concentrating.
  • Playing games like 'Simon Says' where your child has to listen carefully to what you say and how you say it.
  • Getting your child helping in the kitchen. Ask them to get items from the fridge or cupboard, or remember what you need next to make a sandwich.
  • Setting up an obstacle course in the house or garden – can your child remember the order you ask them to do the activities in?

Keep instructions simple and not too long. It will take time for your child to remember more than a couple of things at a time. Your child will feel proud when they get it right.

Feeding Themselves

Learning to sit still at mealtimes is an important skill. It is good for building concentration and social skills.

You can make this a good family habit by eating together as often as you can. It is great if you have a table to sit at together. If you don’t have a table you can still have mealtime rules – where everyone sits together and the TV and all screens are off. This gives you all the space to talk and listen. It also gives your child the chance to watch and learn from you how to use a knife and fork.

At about this age lots of children will manage to eat most things with cutlery. Your child is likely to still need a hand with difficult cutting up until they are around seven. Using a knife and fork will help their hand eye co-ordination develop. They need this for skills like handwriting too, so it is important they get plenty of practice.

Getting Ready To Start School

If your child will be taking a lunch box to school, practice opening and shutting it together so they are able to get their lunch out at meal times.

Think about the food you put in the lunch box. 

    • Will your child be able to unwrap a sandwich or open a packet themselves?
    • Could you chop fruit or vegetables and put them in a little tub? 
    • Practice eating a yogurt or jelly with a spoon. 

Using the Toilet

Most children will be toilet trained by the time they are 3 - 4 years old. Don’t be surprised if they have the odd accident or set back (regression), especially when new things are happening – like starting school, changes in the family or they are just really concentrating on something else!

You can help your child become more confident at going to the toilet on their own. Get them to practice the stages of going to the loo.

  • Closing the door.
  • Pulling down trousers / tights and underwear (choose easy pull on clothes).
  • Sitting on toilet.
  • Wiping them self – this can take a bit of practice.
  • Flushing the toilet.
  • Pulling back up clothes.
  • Washing their hands.

It can help to have a routine around going to the toilet at home. Ask them to go to the toilet after each meal, and before you go out. Encourage them to try to do a poo after breakfast.

Getting Ready To Start School

If your child will soon be starting school soon, when you visit ask to see where the toilets are. Then you can see what they are like and talk about them at home. Find out if your child has to;

  • Ask to go to the toilet.
  • Use steps to reach the loo or sink if they are not child sized. Will your child need to use a urinal?
  • Bring spare clothes in case of accidents. Be honest with the school if your child often soils them self or needs reminders to go to the toilet. This will make sure your child gets the support they need.

Read more about toileting

Getting Dressed

For children being able to dress themselves is an important step towards independence. It grows their confidence and self esteem. It helps them develop important gross motor skills - big movements; like standing on one leg, and fine motor skills - small movements; like buttoning and zipping. These are important for all sorts of activities and learning, both at home and at school.

Children will want to try and do things for themselves. You have probably watched your child work hard to learn new skills. They often do not want your help!! Children can be slow at first. It can take more time to let them do things independently to begin with.

It can be hard to sit back as a parent when you know you could do it more quickly.

  • Children need to learn - it can hold them back if they don’t.
  • Given the chance to practice they will soon get quicker.
  • When children get to do what they can for themselves they will feel confident and able to cope when they need to do these things at school.

You can help by:

  • Choosing easy clothes. Elasticated waists and velcro on shoes are good to start with.
  • Allowing time for them to do what they can themselves. This can mean getting up a bit earlier, or starting bedtime routines a bit sooner.
  • Talking them through all the different steps – getting clothes out, what goes on first and how.
  • Praising as you go. Step in to help when they begin to get annoyed - help with the bit they are stuck on but try not to takeover.

Activities to help:

  • A dressing up box of your old clothes and shoes lets them practice whilst they play, and you have plenty of time.
  • Dressing their dolls and teddies will build skills too.
  • Make getting dressed fun; make up silly songs, race with each other, time them on your phone - whatever works to encourage your child.

Washing Hands

We all know how important hand washing is. The coronavirus outbreak means that we are more aware that we should all wash our hands regularly and for 20 seconds at a time. 

Children learn a lot from watching you. They will need the chance to practice and will need reminding what to do, and when, to begin with. Your child should be washing their hands with soap after using the toilet, playing outside, touching animals and before every meal. This stops the catching and spreading of the germs that cause illnesses.

Encourage your child by:

  • Getting a step so they can reach the sink easily at home.
  • Letting them choose the soap at the shops.
  • Seeing who can make the most bubbles
  • Washing dolls and action figures hands too.

Practice handwashing with your child. Make it a house rule that everyone’s hands are washed before meals and after using the toilet and when you get home after being out. It is a very important habit for the whole family.

Read more about hygiene


Who can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

To speak to other Norfolk parents and carers, you can join our online community forum below.


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