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How to foster your child’s autonomy and build self-confidence  

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Sharing one of my favorite parenting principles-my Independence/Intervention model of parenting!

Here are five examples of how to apply the independence/intervention principle from BIRTH, yes birth and beyond. If you have another way, make sure to DM me or tag me on Instagram as you practice this in your own home.

Independence BEFORE intervention

This is the principle we started when Ryaan was born and it is simple—allow independence BEFORE intervention. Giving our child opportunities to practice independence and experience autonomy helps them create a sense of mastery over their body, their mind and their environment. 

From infancy and beyond, our job is to look out after our infant’s needs. Infants have more care needs than say a toddler—diaper changes, feedings, etc. This is important to recognize. We cannot expect an infant to have autonomy/independence BUT in small ways we can show them that we do think they’re capable of accomplishing something before we intervene.

This independence/intervention principle allows a child to DO SOMETHING for themselves or at least try BEFORE we help/reassure them. Giving them confidence in accomplishing something, promoting troubleshooting, and reminding them that they are capable of doing something on their own and if they are not we are there for them. 

Which to me is PARENTING GOALS. Giving space for our child to do before we DO for them! 

Newborn stage – passing gas and pooping

Independence/Intervention at this stage is vital. Many times babies are born with a discomfort when they pass gas or poop. I want to remind you that if you had to pass gas for the first time or poop it wouldn’t feel great. The baby is learning what this all means and tolerating a new sensation. But, this sensation isn’t bad. It’s physiologic. Now, of course if baby has blood in stool, is spitting up, or losing weight—this is medical and not simply physiologic. But in independence/intervention, you are allowing your child to have the sensation of passing gas or stool before you intervene.

MANY times, we are quick to jump and do bicycle legs or move them around or give them something for the gas. I want you to pause. Allow them to work it out. Give them 1-5 minutes (or whatever you feel and this number/time may increase as you learn about your baby) and LET THEM WIGGLE. IF, they are still struggling then help them.

Why is this important? This is a normal physiological sensation to pass gas and stool. If we IMMEDIATELY do it for them, we are not allowing them to do it for themselves. Something all human beings do. If it gets very uncomfortable, you are there. But allow them the CHANCE. Give them the opportunity to work it out before you intervene. I know it can be hard seeing their wiggly faces, but remember the concept here—they are learning to do something that is physiologic—passing gas or stool. Something every human being does. Initially it may not feel great, but let them do it. You can help them if they need you after that moment of pausing.

Infancy – sleep

Now even if you do not sleep train, the concept of independence/intervention is so important. We often interrupt a baby’s normal cycle by intervening too soon when the baby was making a sound, crying or in between sleep cycles. Take a moment and 1-5 minutes and see if they will settle on their own. You can use this principle in newborn stages, too and learn about your baby as they grow to determine what time frame you are allowing the independence for. 

I think there is a misconception that if you allow any fuss time for your child, you’re not assessing their needs. On the contrary, with this principle you are allowing them the space and independence to accomplish something (sleep as an example) and if they don’t, you calmly swoop in and assist. This gives them an opportunity to work a skill (sleep) on their own and gives them the independence to do so. If they don’t, you are there. But you have to give them the opportunity. I often find kids will surprise you. 

I still remember us using this principle and surprising my mom and MIL. If Ryaan woke up from a nap before an hour, we would allow 15 minutes before we went in. I would watch on the monitor. My mom was quick to jump and I said let’s wait and see what he will do. And lo and behold, he went to sleep for another hour. Oftentimes, babies make noises, may shriek, etc. in between sleep cycles. Use the independence/intervention principle to give a moment. Do give them the chance to show you what they can do.

Infancy – brushing

I put this in infancy because the I/I principle can apply early for brushing autonomy. From the moment that first tooth comes in, allow your child to brush first. This will mean them chewing on the toothbrush, not really knowing what to do. But allow them the autonomy/independence of showing you what they can do. However, we have to follow through—the intervention part. They don’t have the dexterity and ability to brush on their own until early school age, so following up is vital. But rather than immediately doing it first, allow them the opportunity and space to show you what they can do. Applaud their efforts. Verbally encourage them. Celebrate them doing it. And then you finish up. By seeing you recognizing their independence and autonomy, they will be more willing to do it again (positive reinforcement).

Late infancy/toddler – frustration in play

Ooo your child is upset because they can’t figure out how to put a puzzle together. We often want to do it for our kids, but you are going to practice I/I and give them independence first and intervene second. As an infant, you may find less time for independence and that’s okay (meaning you have to intervene quicker because cognitively they are not able to figure it out on their own). But, allow them space to figure it out.

If frustrated, the first step is to verbalize and walk them through it before taking it yourself. So, if your toddler is upset they can’t figure out a toy, verbalize, “I see you are frustrated because you can’t figure this out. Try putting the piece another way.” Let them troubleshoot with your verbalization. If they continue to be frustrated, sit with them and hold their hands and guide them. Try not to take it away in frustration yourself, but be calm when they are upset to show them and model troubleshooting.

Ryaan, our son, would get soooo frustrated with puzzles. It’s almost as if his hands were moving faster than his mind. He would get so upset. This principle got him to enjoy puzzles and not hate them and it meant allowing him to feel frustrated. Through his frustration and space (independence) to feel, he was able to develop skills to troubleshoot. 

School age

Schoolwork is getting tougher, and we often feel we want to help our children. When they are this age, verbalization, positive reinforcement and highlighting the right way to do it are important. You can say things like, “I see this is difficult for you and it’s new. Can you try another way? Try it again and if you are still having difficulty, come to me and we can see how to make it work.”

Allow them the chance to feel the frustration, work through that, and you OKAY that frustration and not dismiss them. Through the frustration, they can actually learn how to pivot and do something else. If the moment they’re frustrated, you fix it, they will never learn to pivot to fix it themselves. Every child will experience struggles and failures. Teaching healthy coping skills is vital. The independence/intervention model allows them to show you and struggle with you nearby. Remember, you are not there to judge. When they actually do struggle without you there—they feel confident that they can handle it.

From infancy, you are setting up a standard for your child that:

  1. I see you as capable.
  2. I will give you space to show me what you can do. 
  3. I will be there for you if you can’t figure it out.

That is why the independence/intervention principle is so important to me.

This is vital to show our children that we TRUST in their abilities and that we aren’t going anywhere if they truly need us. It works for when they start putting on clothes, during meal times when you are starting out with self feeding, and so many more instances. We often feel we need to jump in but if we wait to see what they do first, we may be surprised. Give them space to show us what they are very capable of. 

Check out the PedsDocTalk Toddler Courses! The Toddlers & Tantrums covers toddler development and behaviors. PLUS The Complete Roadmap to Toddler Development offers language development and playtime strategies.

P.S. – Sign up for my newsletter here. 

Dr. Mona Admin

Hi there!

I’m a Board Certified Pediatrician, IBCLC, and a mom of two.

I know the ups and downs of becoming a mom and raising kids.

I help moms ditch the worry and second-guessing so you can find more joy in motherhood.


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