As a parent, we walk a fine line between taking care of our children’s wants and needs while also getting them ready for the day they’ll have to make it on their own. It’s tough at times, that’s for sure! It’s not impossible though if you follow these 8 parenting tips to teach your child to be independent!
My mother and I laugh about some of the things that she says made her a “mean mom” and I think taught me the importance of independence. A favorite story is when I was 9 and wanted a hamper in my room. For some reason, this irked my mom , and she said that if I got one, I would start doing my own laundry. My grandparents and I picked out my hamper for my birthday that year, and I’ve been doing my laundry ever since. My mom would be mortified that I shared this story, but I’m proud to be determined and independent – even about something so silly as laundry.
I want my children to be proud of their determination and independence too, as those are values my husband and I hold dear. Here are my top 8 ways to teach independence to my children.
Parenting Tips to Teach Your Child to Be Independent
- Ask questions. Don’t just give the answer when your child asks you a question. By engaging in a dialogue, you are starting to shape the critical thinking that is so important for success in life. Some of the answers I’ve gotten from my kids have astonished me – sometimes I think they teach me more than I teach them!
- Let them help. This requires patience, and I am the first to admit I have a limited supply. Kids love to help, and involving them in cooking, cleaning, and other household tasks not only teaches them, but also makes them feel important. The task may not be completed exactly as you’d like, but the joy on that little face of feeling included is totally worth it!
- Teach (and exhibit) a growth mindset. Some kids are born with a can-do attitude, and others have to practice. Work with your child to help him understand that having a growth mindset means that he may not be able to do something yet, but that’s just because he hasn’t learned how to do it. The tricky piece is that you have to practice what you preach. Watch what you say – things like, “I always burn the toast,” are the exact opposite of a growth mindset.
- Practice child-led play. The first key to independence is importance. Showing your child that her ideas and opinions are valuable is critical, and the best way to exhibit that is to let her lead play. Ask her to create a game and teach you the rules. Build a tower together and ask her where she thinks the blocks should go. This type of play is easier than it seems!
- Structure less. As kids get older, they often get more involved in activities. Your child may want to be in dance, a sport, and an after school club, but try to limit the amount of structured activities. I know some families who ask their children to choose one activity at a time. Not only does this give your child the freedom to be a kid, but it also teaches them that we have to make choices.
- Set expectations. At a very young age, kids can be expected to contribute to the family. Perhaps it’s as simple as putting shoes in the closet rather than leaving them on the floor. Tell your children what is expected and stick to it – a reward chart for meeting those expectations goes a long way toward reinforcing positive behavior.
- Know when to help. Part of learning to be independent means knowing you can count on people to help when you need it. Tonight, my over-tired and mildly irrational son was unable to choose which of the 4 pairs of pajamas he should wear. I asked him several times just to pick, and he got increasingly more upset. Finally, I suggested a particular pair because I thought they were right for the temperature, and he calmly took them out of the drawer and put them on. There are times that our little ones just can’t be independent, and that’s okay.
- Let them win sometimes. No, I don’t mean let them beat you at Monopoly. I mean let them win an argument. Teach your kids how to respectfully present their side of a debate (like getting a hamper in their room), then really listen to them. If they give you logical reasons, give in. You’re not spoiling them or setting them up to think they should always get their own way, you’re teaching them valuable negotiating skills that they will need later in life.
Perhaps some of these ideas will work for you, and perhaps they won’t. I’m a believer that we all do the best we can, and by giving our children the tools to be independent, we are setting them up for success – whatever that success looks like in the future.