It’s time to talk about raising more independent kids! Teachers and parents need to work together to develop a sense of independence in our children. It is essential for their development and their future. We need to remember that children will grow up, and it is our job, as parents and teachers, to help them become independent and successful adults. Independence gives them a sense of purpose and responsibility and will help them grow into a more balanced child and will make them better prepared for the real world. Not only that, it will free up some of your time as a parent and some of our time as teachers.
We currently live in a time where it is becoming more common for kids to rely on adults to make every decision for them, to speak up for them if a challenge arises, and to save them from every mistake. Or even worse, not even allow them to make mistakes. Adults inherently want to protect children from all the harm that we conceive there is in the world, however by protecting them from everything and doing everything for them, we are taking away their sense of responsibility, problem solving skills, and independence. The very things that that will set them up for success in the real world.
According to Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Stanford Dean, overparenting leaves kids unprepared for college. We happen to agree, and moreover we feel overparenting can leave kids underprepared for elementary school too. We see it in our classrooms on a daily basis with students not carrying their own backpacks, parents unpacking them for them, parents turning in their homework, forgotten items constantly dropped off throughout the school day, and never ending emails from parents to do and tell children a variety of things. Parents have constant access to their child throughout the day and it is playing a role in delayed independence in kids.
Children start to naturally develop independence at two years old.The National Association for the Education of Young Children give tips on how you can start that development at a very young age. It takes time and effort, but will pay off immensely when it is time to send your child to school. If slowly each year you continue to give your child more responsibility, your child will become increasingly more independent.
We understand that it is difficult seeing your baby grow and become more independent. Sometimes it feels like it happens too fast and we try to hold onto the idea of our children as the babies they once were. However, if we continue to do this, we set them up for failure, so here are some recommendations to help your child be more independent at home and at school.
Drop your child off at school, and let them walk into their classrooms on their own. Starting in kindergarten they are capable of walking into their classes independently and following the morning procedures. By allowing them the autonomy to do this, children begin to feel responsible and capable. Over the years, we have seen many stressful morning drop offs whereupon the child cries and the parents coddle them in attempt to soothe the child. This often heightens the situation and does the opposite of what is intended. We promise that once you drop off your child, she or he will calm down and join in on the fun of school. Usually within five minutes.
Backpacks and Supplies
Let your child carry their own backpack. We see many parents continue to carry the backpacks of older kids. Let’s set them up early on to carry their own things. They can do it, and again it makes them feel empowered to be able to do it.
Unpacking and Packing
Put the responsibility on your child to unpack and pack their own backpack. If you develop a routine and have a school spot at home, this will save a lot of time and headache in the long run. Have a basket where they can place school papers for you to look through or have a special time when you go through it together. Items that go into the backpack should only be placed by the child. If they didn’t put it in, they most likely won’t know or remember it is there. We understand that it takes longer for parents to ask their children to put things in their backpack, and by doing it for them, you are saving time in the short term. Something that takes longer now, will set them up for success in the future.
Homework and Projects
Let your child do their homework and projects on their own. Of course you can assist them when they have a question or help them if they need an extra hand putting a project together. Don’t let a little hand become a takeover. Projects should be their ideas and their hard work. When we do our children’s work for them, we are sending a message that they hear loud and clear: yours isn’t good enough. This has a major effect on their confidence and risk taking and they will fear doing things independently.
Having chores at home is a classic way to develop responsibility and independence in children. They are capable of much more than we think and in the younger years, they actually really love to be a helper. For more information on age appropriate chores check out House Wife How-Tos: Chores That Kids Can Do.
At 4 and 5 years old children can start to get themselves dressed with limited parent involvement. A skill that is easily taught and goes a long way, is how to turn an article of clothing that is inside out to right side in. We would think that this would be second nature, but it is a skill that needs to be taught to school age kids. Imagine 20 kids trying to get one teacher to help them put on their jackets in the winter. That’s when we stop the main curriculum and have a “how to put on your jacket tutorial.”
These skills are really important for development and should not fall by the wayside. We already know that academics are important, but again kids need a balance. These skills are essential to help your children in the real world. And these are just some ways to help develop more independent kids. Certainly, there are many more ways to teach independence to children, and every child is unique. We understand that if your child has any special needs that not all of these things will work for your family and you have to do what works for your personal situation. We are also not trying to shame anyone or say that you need to be perfectly doing these things all the time. We want to help educate and partner with you to help raise more balanced and independent kids in this very busy, ever changing world we live in. When studies show that kids are increasingly more dependent, not developing basic responsibility, and unprepared for the basic rigors of life after high school, we need to take a step back, get to the cause, and make some changes. Even if it feels like these changes are going back to a simpler time, they are skills that hold strong in society today.