How to foster independence in children

As a parent, you often may feel like a superhuman circus act as you help bathe, dress, feed, teach, console, and do a multitude of additional tasks for children who seem to have an endless supply of needs. You may feel exhausted by all of the demands, but it also can be rewarding to feel needed. “They only are so small for so long,” you may think, “so I’ll just do this for now.”

Hold that thought for a moment. Remember that one of your roles as a parent is to prepare your child for an independent, self-sufficient life. If you find that you often step in quickly to help, you may inadvertently communicate that your child is helpless and incapable. How can you strike a balance between nurturing and fostering independence by facilitating competence and confidence?

Provide opportunities to feel like a “big kid”

Here are some strategies to guide you.

Remember how good it felt to be able to do something yourself, what the “big kids” were doing? Create opportunities for your children to feel the same way and learn that they are just as capable as the big kids. By practicing skills, your child will know how to be a big kid when the time arrives. For example:

  • Have your child practice picking out his own clothes, preparing her own snack, ordering for himself, or asking a store employee a question she may have: “Excuse me, when will you get more Legos in your store, please?”
  • If you have a neighbor with a child younger than yours, perhaps your child can be a “mommy’s or daddy’s helper.” This would involve helping to watch or play with your neighbor’s child while a parent is at home taking care of other activities like cooking dinner.
  • Depending on where you live, some children may be able to walk to a friend’s house.
  • If your child does not know the answer to something — like the definition of a word — suggest that he look it up.

Establish a chore chart

Giving children opportunities to establish mastery by engaging them in chores encourages them to believe that they are capable and helpful. Doing this gradually teaches children how to take care of themselves without feeling abandoned. Select around three behaviors to have a child practice each day. These behaviors can shift over time to match your child’s developmental stage.

You can establish a chore chart by age 2. Although that may sound early, it is important to start as soon as possible so that children establish self-confidence from the get-go. A toddler can practice putting toys away, a 4-year-old can help feed pets, and a 6-year-old can put laundry away. The American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry has many other age-appropriate suggestions for chores.

Have children earn an allowance

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, linking allowance to chores can create opportunities for children to learn how to manage money. Select chores that serve the household, rather than only the children — for example, unloading the dishwasher instead of self-care activities. That way, money is earned for helping the greater community and not just oneself.

You can start with a very small amount of change that a child can earn per chore. The amount can increase as a child ages. To help children learn the concepts of saving and planning their spending, they can divide what they earn into three containers: “save,” “spend,” and “give.” The “save” container helps children practice saving for the future. The “spend” container allows them to decide whether that toy in the toy store is worth hard-earned money. Perhaps a toy that costs more money is worth the wait. The “give” container can help foster the gesture of spending some of what one earns on others, such as siblings or charitable organizations.

Children do grow up quickly. Yet you still can savor the moments while also preparing children for the future.

Related Information: Harvard Men’s Health Watch

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