If you have a three- or four-year-old, you’re probably amazed every day by the new things they can do. In all areas of life, from getting dressed to using the toilet, pre-schoolers enjoy discovering their independence by imitating the behaviours they see all around them. In this article, we’ll take a look at adaptive skills for pre-schoolers – the tasks they’ll begin to master that will help them to function independently and settle well at primary school.
What are adaptive skills?
Adaptive skills are learned behaviours that we acquire in order to fit in with, or adapt to, our environment. They include a whole range of tasks that enable us to function in society, from taking care of our personal hygiene and feeding ourselves, to building relationships with others.
Adaptive skills for pre-schoolers enable young children to become more independent and build self-confidence, preparing them for the next big stage of their lives when they start school.
Supporting pre-schoolers to build their self-help skills
Pre-schoolers learn at an impressive rate, and they are often determined to be independent: “I can do it myself!” Although sometimes this can mean things take twice as long as they otherwise would, giving pre-school children the opportunity to practise these skills is important for several reasons.
Going through the motions of an activity, over and over again, is the only way to really master that skill. It helps to develop the motor skills and strength required, as well as embedding the habit in the mind and boosting confidence. So whether it’s putting a coat on or eating with a knife and fork, when it comes to adaptive skills, practice really does make perfect. These fine motor activities for toddlers are also fantastic for developing the dexterity needed.
Obviously, there will be times when it’s not practical or possible to wait indefinitely for your child to pull on both socks before leaving the house – but when you can, it’s important to be patient and let them get there themselves. There are other things that parents can do, too. Let’s take a look at some specific adaptive skills for toddlers, and how you can encourage your child to acquire them.
Dressing independently is a skill that will probably be developed gradually, over a period of time. It might start with one item of clothing – putting on their own trousers, perhaps, while you help with the rest. A well-stocked dressing-up box is a great way to encourage children to practise their dressing skills while at play.
Using the toilet
Using the toilet independently is one of the most important adaptive skills for pre-schoolers to master – but it can take time. Many parents begin with a potty before moving on to the toilet, which helps toddlers to feel comfortable using equipment that’s designed for their mini proportions. Hand washing can be encouraged with special hand washing songs and sweet-smelling soap. Make sure your child can reach the sink easily – you may need to invest in a step stool for them to climb on.
Eating and drinking
Some parents choose to let their babies self-feed right from the beginning, while others prefer to spoon-feed for a while. By toddlerhood, however, most children will be eager and able to feed themselves finger foods. Using cutlery can be fiddly and can take a lot longer to master. Don’t stress about the mess – let them play with a spoon at mealtimes to get used to how it feels and what it can do. Role-playing a teddy bear’s tea party and using utensils to cut playdough are two excellent ways to support your child towards independent self-feeding.