By Vicki Little
As parents we want to protect our children and take care of their every need. Sounds great in theory, but in reality, too much protection equals too little independence for children. Trying to find the perfect level of independence for your children is a bit like parenting Red Riding Hood. One approach is too hot: Your child feels suffocated, doesn’t know how to tie their shoes at age 15, and feels like no one believes in them. Another approach is too cold: Your child might feel neglected and unloved. In between is an independence that is juuuust right. When given this level of independence, children thrive. They have confidence, they know how to make good decisions, they know more about themselves and their abilities, and they are better able to handle the challenges that life throws at them. Learning how to be independent is often a lifelong process, and there are at least 7 simple ways you teach your child independence while they are young.
1. Allow natural consequences. This is a running theme throughout all the suggestions. In life-lesson situations, let natural consequences happen to your child. You can always help pick up the pieces and resolve the situation afterward, but don’t save them. Let them fall and pick themselves up instead of waiting until they are older, when suddenly they have to face reality and you aren’t there to help out. The small mistakes with small consequences (as hard as they may) may help them avoid bigger mistakes later. This also will show your children that you do trust them to make decisions, but if they happen to make a mistake, you will be there to help them.
2. Allow your child to make decisions as often as possible. Children of all ages have the capacity to make their own choices, and allowing them to do so will teach them valuable lessons about carefully evaluating all choices and making decisions based on those evaluations. Depending on their age and the decision being made, you can give your child a framework to work within. For very small children, it can be as simple as letting them choose their snacks. As they get older, they can make bigger decisions, such as what time of the day they want to do their homework. As they get even older, allow them to decide where to get a summer job and how often they want to work.
3. Don’t pick up their slack. Usually it is easier to just do something yourself rather than wait for someone else to do it. But if you keep picking up your children’s messes, bringing them homework they left on the table, and nagging them to finish a long-term project, then you aren’t doing them any favors. Instead, you are enabling them to continue their current behavior. The longer it continues, the harder it is to break. They may also start to blame you when things go wrong. I learned this the hard way once when I dropped my son off at school after a hectic morning. He took a long time at breakfast because he hadn’t finished his homework the night before. I gave him a quick kiss and said I hoped that his day got better. He looked back and said, “It would have been fine if you had reminded me to do my homework yesterday.” I didn’t have time to scream back at him that I DID remind him — five times thankyouverymuch — before he was in the school, and I was left to fume for the rest of the day.
4. Help them manage their money, but let them take control. As with most decisions, this is an area where they should be given some freedom within set boundaries. Set the expectations of saving 10%, giving 10% and spending 80%. Once they set aside the necessary 20%, step back and let them make their choices about how the rest is spent. It is so easy to tell them that they are wasting money on candy and gum or whatever, but it is better to let them learn on their own. They still have to follow all the other rules, such as not eating before dinner or finishing homework before they do other activities, and you will need to stand firm in not helping them buy those bigger purchases.
5. Give them household chores. Everyone in the family should participate in the daily upkeep and running of the household. Expecting parents to do all the cooking, cleaning, finances, etc. is only setting children up for years of frustrations with their roommates and spouses. Living in one home as a community takes effort and responsibility on the part of all members. Each person should have at least one thing they are responsible for on a daily and a weekly basis. Decide as a family what the consequences are for not completing tasks. Do not do their chores for them. Instead, make them face the consequences.
6. Don’t intervene in their problems. Yes, I am suggesting that when your children come running to you tattling on one another you simply ask them to come up with solutions. When they are having a fight with their friend, don’t immediately call your mom-friend to fix it for them. Help them come up with solutions to solve problem on their own. If they are constantly doing homework late and their grade is suffering, don’t give them the step-by-step of what to do. Ask them to think of solutions with you to raise their grade. Obviously there are some problems they will need your help with — if they are being bullied, or their friend is threatening to hurt themselves, or they are engaging in something illegal. You absolutely should intervene when the problems are too big for them to handle.
7. Don’t give awards for participation. I am not a fan of participation trophies, but it goes even further than that. Don’t praise every single thing your child does. As a general rule, if something is expected during daily activities, don’t praise them for doing it. If they go above and beyond or do more than expected, or they work really hard to achieve a goal — then praise them. For example, manners and chores should not be praised. Good grades and doing something unexpected and kind for a sick sibling should get praised. Think about it: If you got praised just for showing up to work on time, you wouldn’t really feel the need to work any harder to earn praise from your boss would you?
How do you teach your children to be independent?
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, reading, camping, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.
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