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Developing Independence Skills

Starting school is a big event in your child's life.  

There are some key skills which you can help your child to develop before they start. Take a look a the tabs below.

*Available to download below*

  • When they begin reception they are still little. They are not always going to get it right; knowing how to listen and follow instructions will help them settle into school 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.

    • Read stories and do activities that encourage sitting still together and concentrating.
    • Play 'Simon Says' where your child has to listen carefully to what you say and how you say it.
    • Get your child helping in the kitchen– ask them to remember what you need next to make a sandwich.
    • Set up an obstacle course in the 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.

  • 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.



    Most children will be toilet trained by the time they begin reception. They may have the odd accident which schools are used to.

    On the build up to starting school 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 (Choose easy pull on clothes.)
    • Sitting on toilet
    • Wiping them self – this can take a bit of practice
    • Flushing the chain
    • 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.
    Ask to see the toilets with your child before they start school. 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. This will make sure your child gets the support they need.

    There is more information about toileting *here*

  • For children being able to dress them self 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 want to try and do things for them self. You have probably watched your child work hard to learn new skills. They often do not want your help!! Children can be slow to begin with. It can take a lot of time to let them do things independently.

    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. 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

    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.

  • It will be easier and more hygienic for your child if they can wash and dry their own hands when they start school.

    They 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. Try watching this video together. Make it a house rule that everyone’s hands are washed before meals and after using the loo. It will quickly become a good habit for the whole family.

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.

Alternatively you can go to see your GP to discuss concerns.

*Click Here* to speak to other Norfolk parents and carers, you can join our online community forum. 


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