Our jobs as parents and teachers is to teach our children independence. This sounds easier than what it is because from the moment that babies and children come into our lives they are dependent on us. In our roles as caretakers, who love our children, we often forget that our charges will grow up, and they must be able to think, regulate emotions, overcome challenges, and do things for themselves. It is uncomfortable to see children struggle or be in any sort of discomfort. Yet it is only through personal trial and error and processing the uncomfortable emotions that they will gain the skills necessary to be independent.
Fortunately there are a few things we can do to help build independent skills
1. Try not to always answer their questions
If you think they can answer it themselves, you should let them. Kids have a million questions a day and most of them are questions that with a little thought and a little problem solving, they can arrive at the answer on their own. By letting them figure things out, you are helping them grow and giving them confidence.
2. At the park allow them to climb and play on their own without your help
When you go to the park allow your child to explore without you right behind them. Watch from a safe distance and give them the space to explore and play on their own. Let them climb, run, and play independently. By doing so, they know you are close, but that they have to figure out the play structure themselves.
3. Allow them to walk into their school or classroom alone
Children as young as kindergarteners should carry their own backpacks and walk into their classrooms independently. They do not need your help to unpack or complete the morning routines of the classroom. Letting them know that school is their space early on in their schooling will set them up to be independent scholars.
4. Let them do their homework alone
Children need a space in the house where they can do their homework independently. Children do not have a teacher sitting next to them at school. We monitor the class and help students as needed. They are very capable of doing the same at home. It is their responsibility to complete their homework, not yours.
5. If they say they can’t, don’t swoop in and do it for them
There will be times when things will be challenging for kids. This can be as simple as eating a new food to more complex things such as STEM projects. Of course we aren’t saying NEVER help your kids. We are saying they should be pushed to try things that they think they can’t do. One of the best things to witness in child development is when a child realizes they can do something that they thought they couldn’t.
6. Give them chores
Chores help give kids responsibility which builds independence. Kids can and should contribute to the household. It can be easy as picking up toys, helping set the table, making their bed, sorting the laundry, or feeding the pets. As they grow and they learn more skills their chores can become more age appropriate. Children love knowing they can do something to help and it will help build life skills that they will need.
7. Have them help with lunches and breakfast
With a little direction, kids can help put together their lunches and help make their breakfast. Teach them how to use the toaster, pour cereal, put a step stool in your kitchen so they can access bowls and plates. Most children by age 12 are completely capable of using the oven and stove.
8. Let them walk to school or to the store on their own
The National Center for Safe Routes to School is working hard to help create ways for communities to make it safer for kids to walk in communities on their own. While it might be scary to allow your child to walk somewhere on their own, a 2012 study from Safe Kids USA reported that streets are safer now than they were in 1995. Letting them walk by themselves forces them to use and practice all the safety precautions you have taught them.
9. Give them time and space to solve social struggles on their own
Having challenges with friends is normal. It is part of development and a huge part of life. Kids need to learn how to navigate relationships. If you want to help your child, give them the tools or suggestions on how to deal with specific situations. It really does not help for a parent to confront another child and try to solve the problem for them. It is always good to remember that there is a big difference between social conflict and bullying. For more on this check out this article from verywellfamily.
10. Let them make mistakes
They are more likely to try new things and take risks when they know they can make mistakes and learn from them. If you try to avoid and save them from making mistakes you are taking away a very important part of development. Mistakes can be uncomfortable, but they need to learn how to be uncomfortable sometimes.
“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.”
- Ann Landers