Why such forcefulness? What happened to that sweet little girl who once let you dress her in those adorable outfits? Are those days gone forever?
Yes, those days with this precious child are gone forever. However, this is not a cause for sadness, but rather celebration. With these words she is telling you in no uncertain terms that she is beginning to realize her power to manage her own life. Such a statement is really a powerful declaration of emerging autonomy.
“I can do it myself” communicates self-sufficiency and independence. By allowing appropriate freedom for a child of this age to do things for herself, you, in effect, fuel this emerging sense of autonomy, thus encouraging feelings of self-worth and power.
Conversely, by not allowing children to do things for themselves that they are quite capable of doing fuels feelings of shame and doubt. The end result of doing those things for a child they can do for themselves is a fostering of dependency as the child will feel inadequate to care for herself.
One of the saddest outcomes of childhood is an “adult” who doesn’t feel adequate to manage his or her life. I put the word adult in quotation because such an individual is hardly an adult in maturation, but rather a child trapped in an adult body. In a desperate attempt to get these needs met, they become increasingly manipulative and attention seeking. Such adults are pitiful by any standard.
Why do some parents do for their children what they can do for themselves? The reasons vary, but most share in common an underlying desire to not allow their child to grow up. Such a desire should be seen for what it is — selfish and controlling. Such actions are certainly not in the best interests of the child who eventfully will be expected to function in the adult world.
Some will balk at this statement and insist in the next breath that the reason they don’t allow their child to do for herself is more of a matter of time than anything else. After all, an adult can dress a 4-year-old child in a fraction of the time she can dress herself. This is a plausible argument as we are all painfully aware of the pressures of time. But rasing a child well demands time. Giving the time a child needs to care for herself has many, many rewards well worth the investment.
Remember the bottom line: Anytime you do something for a child what they can do for themselves, you fuel feelings of shame and doubt. Conversely, when you allow children to do for themselves what they are capable of doing, you fuel feelings of healthy autonomy.