As a mom of kids ranging from 2 to 12, I realize how quickly time flies. I love watching them grow, try new things, and discover their passions. As a parent, it can be hard to let them struggle through, or even fail at, experiences outside their comfort zone. However, those experiences develop confidence and independence which is valuable in raising children. I want to raise self-sufficient adults and that means I need to start training them now. Here are some ideas to help kids naturally develop the independence needed to be confident and responsible adults.
The Preschool Years (ages 2-5)
Create a helper
Toddlers and preschoolers love to follow their parents around the house; so why not have them help with the chores? They can help put clothes in the dryer, match socks, sweep the floor, or assist in any other task. They may not be able to do chores independently or have household responsibilities yet, but taking the extra time now lays the groundwork for the future.
During the preschool years, kids typically show an interest in trying self-care tasks themselves. It may be easier (and faster) to tie your child’s shoes, zip up their coat, make their lunch, and buckle their seatbelt but allowing your child to try these things on their own helps them become more independent. Consider starting the preparation for your day 15 minutes earlier to allow time for your child to try some things on their own. If frustration arises, remain calm and ask if they would like help. Instead of just completing the task for them, take time to teach them how to do it so they can try again tomorrow.
Problem solving skills begin to develop at a young age. Toddlers and preschoolers will often get frustrated when things don’t go their way and it may result in a temper tantrum. While this is age appropriate, parents can begin to help their children develop problem solving skills by calmly suggesting solutions to what is upsetting them. Have your child come up with ideas to solve the problem and when possible help them work through it on their own.
Bonus tip for preschoolers
Give your child choices whenever possible to help them develop independence and to give them a sense of control.
The elementary school years (ages 6-11)
Create a helper
For elementary age kids, you can advance what was done in the preschool years. I will assign my child a chore like washing windows, vacuuming, or putting away dishes and since they have helped me with these tasks for years they no longer need my assistance. If they are reluctant to do chores, I make a list of things that need to be done and have them choose a few things they would like to do. When they are done they will have free time for electronics, outside play, or something they have been looking forward to. Chores teach kids to be independent and responsible.
Give your child more opportunities to be independent as they mature. This may look different depending on your child’s age and maturity but some ideas may be ordering and paying for their food at a restaurant, riding their bike home from school, packing their own lunch, or trying a new extracurricular activity. Each opportunity, even a challenging one, helps your child become self-sufficient and develop more independence.
Elementary school kids will begin to face bigger problems that may include challenging friendships, struggles with schoolwork, or even bullying. Foster good communication with your child and help them come up with solutions they are comfortable with. Cheer them on when they are able to work through obstacles.
Bonus tip for the elementary school years:
Do your best not to criticize your child’s efforts, but instead praise them for doing their best.
The teen years (ages 12-18)
Create a helper
Tweens and teens should be given even more household responsibilities as they are nearing adulthood. Take note of what skills it takes to run a household and begin to teach them these tasks. Cooking, yard work, babysitting, laundry, car care, and even a part time job fall into this category. The more responsibilities your child is comfortable while in your home will make the transition to living on their own smoother.
There is a fine line between giving your child independence and keeping them safe in the teen years. As kids start to drive, spend more time with friends, and work outside the home parents have less control over their choices. Continue working on open communication and trust with your teen so that as they venture into the world, you both feel comfortable with the change.
One of the hardest things kids have to experience is the consequence for a poor choice. A parent’s first reaction may be to step in and “save” their child but, in the long run, this does not teach them anything. For example, if your child left their homework at home they will not receive credit for the work. The easy thing to do would be to run the assignment to the school, but chances are your child will forget again and most likely, on a larger assignment. As adults we have to manage our responsibilities and teens must also learn these lessons. If forgotten homework is repeatedly an issue, suggest packing up the night before. Sit down with your child and help them come up with solutions to problems and encourage them to do this without you and present their solution to you.
Bonus tip for the teen years:
Set specific household rules so that your child has the opportunity to be independent but not out of your comfort zone as a parent.
As our children grow, so must their responsibilities. As always, you will be there to guide and train them but giving your child tools throughout their childhood will help them grow into a confident and independent adult.
words by Sarah Lyons
photos by Jesse Brown Nelson