Want Independent Kids? Let Them Go
Let go when you can. I am fortunate to be able to spend my summers in a safe haven surrounded by family and old friends, but our return home will be a difficult transition. I can’t let my daughter ride off on her own there as I can here, so I have to take this opportunity to build her up as much as possible.
Even if you can’t let your child walk to the park alone, you can let him walk to a neighbor’s house. You can fall back and let him take the lead. You can let him go outside and watch from the window instead of tracking his every move. You can let him pay for the apples at the Farmer’s Market or order the bagels at the bagel store. When kids feel like adults trust them, they feel self-confident and capable. They rise to the occasion and learn to care for their own needs when possible. This is a huge step toward independence.
My kids love to help me bake and cook, and I’m almost never alone in the kitchen. For a while, I simply put them in charge of dumping pre-measured ingredients into a bowl or washing fruits and veggies. Recently, I realized that my daughter is ready for much more. Now she does the measuring, the reading of steps when we use recipes, and she even scrambles the eggs. She loves every minute of it.
Sometimes parents get stuck in patterns. We ask the kids to pick up the toys because we know they can handle it, but we forget that they can, and should, handle more as they grow. My 5-year-old son, for instance, loves the new dust buster and can Swiffer like a pro. My daughter enjoys making beds and folding clothes. The more tasks we give them, the more capable they feel. This helps instill a belief that they can do things—that they are independent little beings.
Experts always advise parents to give kids choices, and this is good practice for little ones. Choosing between options helps kids feel in control and changes the power differential just enough to fend off frustration. But choosing between two good options is not the same as making a decision.
It’s important to teach kids how to make difficult decisions. Show kids how to weigh pros and cons. Talk about decisions you've had to make and how you figured out what was best. Guide them through the process, but leave your opinions out of it. Once kids start to think about potential risks, benefits, and consequences, they can learn to make decisions in their own best interest. Even if that very first decision is something seemingly small, like what kind of cupcake to order from the bakery.
What have you done to encourage independence in your kids?