Have you ever wanted two things at once? It’s like in the movie Frozen -- before we realized Hans was a big, fake jerk, we all wanted Anna to end up with him and with Kristoff. It was agonizing knowing we couldn’t have it both ways. (OK, maybe that was just me.)
As parents, we sometimes want two things simultaneously. We sob when our little ones go independently off to their first day of school, yet if we have to bend over and tie our 6-year-old’s shoe one more time, we might not be able to keep the curse words inside our head much longer.
We don’t want them to grow up too fast, yet we’re chomping at the bit for them to be able to manage all their hygiene/cleaning/feeding/driving tasks on their own so we can have a little more independence.
How to balance?
Keep in mind that the ultimate goal is for your children to become happy, well-adjusted adults who won’t end up thinking “grocery shopping” means raiding the refrigerators at Mom and Dad’s house.
So how do you teach a comfortable amount of independence?
It really comes down to confidence. A confident child will feel comfortable learning new things, and will often keep trying even when the going gets tough. Whether your child is 5 or 15, these tips will help you teach confidence in an environment in which your child can walk steadily on the path to independence.
Praise (Don’t Sweat the How -- Just Do It)
Think about how proud you feel when someone compliments you on something you've done well. You stand a little taller. You probably even decide you can do better next time. Praise has a way of bringing out our best.
Now, you’ve heard it before: The experts tell you to praise effort, not outcome. “I’m so impressed with how hard you worked on your science fair project” builds more character than: “You’re so smart.”
But don’t stress the ‘how’ of praising. Yes -- Work hard to praise effort, but don’t stifle a natural praise just because it isn’t phrased as the experts suggest. Let your child know you think he’s great. He’ll feel confident, loved, and more willing to try new, independent tasks.
Provide room for growth and independent thought by giving your child choices (But again -- don’t stress it! Just do it naturally!).
When she’s little, offer her a choice of a banana or an apple for a snack. When he’s in grade school, offer him the choice of cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming the living room. Let your children pick the sport or instrument they want to play. Let them choose their classes.
By the time your kids get to high school, they’ll be bombarded with choices -- college or trade school? Underage drinking on Fridays with friend A, or a movie with friend B? If they’ve had plenty of experience making choices on little things, they’ll be more confident to make smart decisions on the big things.
If They Can Do It, Let Them
Oh, this is so hard! When your toddler is putting books back in the bookshelf, it would be so much easier and faster to do it yourself. It’s easier to pour the cereal for your grade-schooler, easier to do the laundry for your middle-schooler, easier to pick up the dirty socks from your high-schooler’s floor.
But THEY CAN DO IT THEMSELVES. Expect it. Follow up. Let them do what they can do. And teach them to do even more.
Reverse the Dialogue
Think about your words on a typical morning. Do they go something like this? “After breakfast, I want you to brush your teeth and get your backpack ready. Don’t forget to grab your shoes while you’re upstairs. And did you remember to make your bed?”
When you communicate this way, does your child remember to do everything you asked? Or is he coming to the front door without shoes, telling you he’s ready for the day?
Here’s a simple and effective trick -- Just turn it around. Instead of telling your child what to do, ask him what’s next. This gives him responsibility he can manage.
Better yet, give him a routine system he can follow all on his own -- with no prodding from you!
Teach Valuable Skills
Self-esteem is built upon skills and accomplishments. Give your children opportunities to learn skills. Keeping them in music lessons and sports is one way to accomplish this, but simple things are also important -- learning life skills, like sewing on a button, preparing meals, budgeting, and cleaning the house will give your children confidence and the ability to succeed independently.
Help Your Child See the Positive in the Negative
No matter how perfectly you praise and provide expectations, your child is going to fail -- sometimes miserably. (Deep breaths. It’s OK.) Help her see the positive in the negative. After allowing her to grieve a failure, ask her to look for the positive. She’ll be more resilient and willing to try new things (aka: independence) when she gets these opportunities under your loving guidance.
Brili helps parents teach responsibility and independence through a routines system children actually want to do. Learn more.