If you have read our past posts you will have noted that we are big proponents of independence and responsibility. Developing these skills can boost children’s confidence and will give them the tools that they need in school, in life, and later on as adults. When these skills aren’t developed, challenges can arise that impede them from developing into self-sufficient adults.
A recent trend that we have noticed is overly dependent children. In these instances, children have a hard time trying things on their own, they give up rather quickly, and they immediately ask for help from an adult. In the classroom, these students tend to interrupt lessons or directions being given by the teacher because they fear not knowing what to do or getting it wrong. Even when it is a simple task, they might immediately raise their hand and ask for help because they lack confidence in themselves. Other signs of an overly dependent child, is when children don’t try new things and won’t attempt a problem, project, or activity if they do not have an adult nearby to ask help from. They fear taking risks because they are uncomfortable with not knowing if they will succeed.
Children adapt to their environment and if adults in their life do everything for them, they begin to rely on that and become overly dependent. They know that someone will come and “rescue” them so they learn that they don’t need to try on their own. This is a challenge in a classroom where a teacher or two have to teach, lead, and support many children.
Not to worry, it’s never too late to implement strategies if your child has become overly-dependent. Here are some things that can help make a difference:
Let them answer their own questions
If you notice your child asks you questions for everything, you can turn it back on them and guide them in a way that will help them get to the answer on their own. Asking questions like “What do you think?” or “How do you think we can figure that out?” This can help empower children and help them develop self-efficacy.
In the moment it might seem easier to complete a task for your child. A little patience and time can be extremely beneficial. When children learn to do things for themselves they develop high self-efficacy and become empowered.
Let them do their homework independently
When working in the classroom students are expected to complete their work independently. Teachers walk around and assist as needed, but they do not sit with only one child, if you sit with your child and complete their homework with them, they get used to having an adult nearby. Set up an area where they can work independently and you can support as needed.
When your child comes to you with a problem, you don’t always have to fix it. Be there to listen and ask questions, but don’t feel you have to rescue them all the time. When children learn to solve age appropriate problems on their own, it will equip them with the tools to solve bigger problems later on.
If you have gotten used to over-functioning for your child, it can be hard to make changes, it might get worse before it gets better, but it will be very beneficial in the long run to give your child space to grow. It can help to make gradual changes to help your child become more independent.
This week we wanted to offer some tips that we have used in our classes to build confidence in children. Every school year we have students who struggle with confidence. This low confidence in themselves can affect their ability to learn and complete their assignments. Not because of their ability, but because they are less likely to attempt problems on their own, problem solve, or give up easily. We work very hard throughout the year to build these students’ confidence in themselves, and it makes us so happy to see them gain confidence and become more independent.
This topic relates to last week’s post on independence. While confidence is interconnected with independence, and we touched a little bit on it last week, we wanted to elaborate more on simple techniques you can use to help build or restore your child’s confidence.
Before we do that, we want to clarify the difference between confidence and arrogance. The two often walk a fine line, and it can be a little tricky to distinguish between the two.
Confidence comes from being secure with who you are and what you can do.
Arrogance comes from insecurities and the need to feel better than other people.
We want to teach kids to work hard, develop skills that will help them follow through with projects and goals, and be resilient when things go wrong. Developing confidence doesn’t mean they get a trophy for every little thing, have unrealistic ideas of what they are capable of, or make others feel less than. It means internally they are able to take risks and not be overly concerned with what others think.
Below are five ways to build children’s confidence that are easy to incorporate into your parenting style. These are things we do on a daily basis in our class to help our students feel confident and proud of themselves.
You will hear us say making mistakes is the answer to so many things. Because it is! “Mistakes are proof that you are trying” is our motto! Letting kids know that making mistakes is ok, normal, something everyone does, and that they should not feel bad about making them will help them internalize that mistakes are part of the process and they don’t define who they are. Being confident means you can make mistakes and understand that it’s how you handle the mistake that matters.
2. Avoid Comparison
We need to teach kids to compare themselves to who they were yesterday not to other children. It starts by modeling this behavior. As adults, we shouldn’t be comparing kids (especially siblings) OR ourselves to others. We should always set realistic goals for ourselves, but not base them on those around us. There is a difference between getting inspired by someone and wanting to be better than someone.
Keep a healthy balance with encouragement and not overly praising children. With too much praise, children start to rely on your constant approval. When school work comes home focus on what they did right and how much they have improved in an area, try not to zoom in on mistakes or grades. If you notice your child always asking if you “like” something they did, turn it back to them to see if they like it, or ask them to tell you how they thought of it. But of course recognize when your child has been working hard at something!
When kids know they can do something on their own, it helps build confidence. Age appropriate choices, chores, and responsibilities are great confidence builders. See our previous post for more tips on how to build independence.
5. Teach Empathy
Find ways to help other people. There are so many children who are making the world better, and helping our children see that they can too will not only build their confidence but make them feel good on the inside. It could be having your child go through their toys to donate to a cause, or getting involved in a local community service project. It is empowering for kids to know that they can make a difference. Check out this TedTalk or the books of Kids Who are Changing the World (and You Should Meet) and Kids Who are Changing the World Who are Changing the World and share it with your child to inspire them to get started.
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.