Raising independent children is hard work, but it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do, for them and for you! Children who are able to solve their own problems and do things for themselves are happier and more relaxed about the world around them. They are less stressed about how everything is going to get done because they are in control of the situation. It takes time to teach kids how to be independent, so be patient with the process and expect a few messes along the way!
- Set clear boundaries – Let children know what their boundaries are and what is expected of them. There should be no surprises in what they are allowed to do on their own and when they should ask for help. If there are questions, kids should talk to the grown-up in charge and discuss the situation with them.
- Create structure and routine that encourages independence – Set kids up to be able to help themselves as much as possible. Put cups on lower shelves, keep drinks on the lowest shelf in the fridge, have children sort and put away their own laundry, let them pick out their own clothes and dress themselves in the mornings and create a snack shelf in the fridge with healthy options. The more they can do for themselves, the more that a sense of independence will be created for them.
- Teach problem solving skills – If children have a problem, teach them the skills they need to solve it. A common problem children have is fighting among siblings. Instead of always stepping in, give them the option of resolving the conflict with each other on their own. Role-playing is a great way to introduce these skills without having all the emotion of a real conflict in the way.
- Show empathy – It’s important for kids to know you care while they are figuring out how to solve a situation. Tell them that you care about what happens to them, but that you’d also like for them to be the one who figures out the solution. You won’t allow them to get physically hurt, but they do need to find a solution that they think will work.
- Let them fail – It sounds harsh, but allow for mistakes. The best consequences are the ones that occur naturally. For example, forgetting your homework at home will mean you will suffer a consequence at school. It’s a learning experience, but one that is sure to help your child remember their homework next time! Let them spill the milk when trying to pour it into their glass, then show them how to clean it up and try again!
- Let them do it themselves – Have children be responsible for their own belongings on a trip. They can pack a small backpack of toys and books to bring on a trip, be responsible for carrying it through the airport and onto the plane and make sure that all of their belongings get back into the backpack for the trip home.
- Give choices – Let children think for themselves and give them reasonable choices about their day. If they need to be dressed up that day, allow them to choose the blue or the grey shirt. Have them help you decide which snacks to prepare, what project to work on, what homework they’d like to do first and other choices throughout the day.
- Let them speak for themselves – When you are at a restaurant have your child order their own food or if you’re at a medical appointment have them speak to the receptionist, nurse and doctor. This gives them the opportunity to learn how to interact with people outside of their social groups and in professional settings.
- Interject, but don’t intervene – When children are in the middle of figuring out a problem, but are struggling a bit, don’t solve the problem for them. It’s okay to offer suggestions and ideas if they are truly stuck, but it’s important that they use the thought process to get themselves out of the situation. Your children will probably surprise you by coming up with solutions that you may have not even thought of!
- Practice how to practice – Practicing is a life-long skill that we all use on a daily basis. If your child takes up a musical instrument, but halfway through the year decides they no longer want to play it, use the experience as a practicing experience. They need to finish their commitment and should consider it practice for life. Make sure to explain that to them.
Being independent isn’t easy, nor is it fast. There are times when you are truly in a hurry and kids won’t be able to practice, but try to allow for times when your children can do things on their own, even if that means waking up 15 minutes earlier in the morning! Kids who are independent will turn into teenagers who are independent and able to make solid choices, because at some point, you won’t be there to guide their every move. It’s important to give them the tools today so that they grow to be successful adults