"Under the urge of nature and according to the laws of development, though not understood by the adult, the child is obliged to be serious about two fundamental things … the first is the love of activity… The second fundamental thing is independence.” Maria Montessori
Let's focus on the second fundamental thing; independence. Perhaps the question is, when do we, the adults, begin the long process of "teaching" independence? Do we wait until we think they are old enough? Do we decide when independence is expected? The basic answer is... we should encourage independent behavior from birth.
Maria Montessori observed that children were equipped with an innate desire to be independent from a very early age. She also observed that adults had a knack of unintentionally revoking a child’s desire to be independent by doing things for the child. In their defense, the adults truly believed that they were helping the child. Sadly, what they were really doing was making the child feel incapable of working through a task. Instead of teaching Independence, they were teaching dependency and encouraging laziness, while causing lack of self-confidence.
How do we avoid creating bad habits in the future? First, don't beat yourself up. Second, move forward with new thinking.
If your child is still an infant: observe. The moment he wants to hold the bottle, let him. You can still cuddle and bond while he holds his own bottle. He will let you know when he no longer wants to hold it. Then ask him, “Are you finished?” or “Do you want me to hold your bottle?” That’s right, ask him. He can't answer yet, but at least he was asked.
When she is ready to eat solid food, give her a child sized plate, fork or spoon, and a small glass (not a sippy cup, which exist for our cleaning convenience). If she can sit up, provide a child-sized table and chair. When she is finished, don't pick her up and wash her up for her. Ask her if she is finished, then tell her how important it is to clean up. Give her a damp cloth and give yourself one and show her how to wipe her face by doing it on your own face. You can show her how to clean up the table too. Provide a low surface area that she can reach, which has two bins. One with warm soapy water and one with cooler clear water. First show her how to wash and rinse the dish. Then give it to her and encourage her to try. Also, teach her to dry the dish. You can show her how to wipe the table with a sponge too. Warning: it may not happen all at once. Advice: be consistent and she will begin to mimic your actions. It takes patience... lots of it! I guarantee that if you invest the time and effort you will be pleasantly surprised.
Is all lost if your child is older? Not necessarily. These actions are habits. The time it takes to change a habit depends on your child's personality and on your level of patience.
Don't give up!
Your 6 year old can cook and clean up after himself. Can you imagine coming home from a long day at work, and Johnny asks, “What would you like for dinner, mom? Relax, I've got this.? It CAN happen.