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Developing independence in children

I am sure that many parents question whether they are doing enough to ensure their primary school aged children will be able to stand on their own two feet one day and not be over dependent on them.  I know I do this frequently.

My wife and I question our parenting style on occasion and wonder is it effective?

Last year I researched a few articles that mentioned stories of extreme parenting. We find parents who chase their preschoolers around the playground in case

they fall, mediate early grade children’s issues with friends and teachers, even going so far as calling their high school student’s teachers to argue about grades. On the other end of the spectrum, there are the stories about the “Free-Range Parents” who let their primary school children walk the shopping centres alone, stay home alone and generally expect they will be OK, safe and well without adult supervision.

It is difficult to know what an appropriate amount of independence is for your young children. My question was when are my actions becoming “overprotective” instead of supporting my children’s independence? When should I step in if there are problems? Should I email their teachers whenever there are issues with a peer or tears after school?

My research, and I would hope common sense, made me believe that I should seek a middle ground, supervising appropriately to prevent unnecessary risk and injury, but still stepping back enough to allow children to solve their own problems, and support them as they mature. Here are four parenting tips my research recommended to help support our children’s growing independence.

1. Teach self-help skills

Every day your child grows a little older and a little more capable of doing things on their own. As parents, we should be stepping back regularly to assess what we are still doing for our children that they could be doing for themselves. Are you helping your six-year old dress? Do you polish you Grade 6 son’s shoes? Are those skills things they could be doing on their own? Supporting the development of children’s self-help skills is not only important for children’s growing desire to be independent, but they also are critical in preschool and early grade classrooms.

2. Require chores and family responsibilities

Help support your child’s growing sense of self and desire to do things by themselves by assigning them household chores. Even very young children can do small chores, like throwing away their litter or putting their dirty clothes in the wash basket. When teaching these skills, it is important that parents are encouraging and patient. Break the routine down into simple steps. Provide gentle reminders. Resist the urge to redo what they have done independently.

3. Don’t fight their battles

Teaching children how to solve their own problems is a skill that begins in early childhood. When they are little, the problems might be over who gets the blue truck, but those problems grow into bigger issues with time. Teaching them steps to solve problems is a critical lifelong skill. Teach your children basic problem solving steps such as learning to identify exactly what the problem is, thinking of solutions to the problem, analyzing those solutions for fairness and then trying it out to see if it worked. Help your children work through the steps, but resist the urge to give them the answer. As they get older, encourage them to talk directly with their teacher about forgotten homework or queries they have with marked work.  The ability to confront problems head on and deal with the consequences truly is a life skill.

4. Impose natural consequences

As adults, we know a lot about consequences. If we forget to pay a bill, we will have to pay a late fee. If we speed – and get caught – we get a speeding ticket. If the child forgets their homework or PE kit, and mom runs them up to school every time, they aren’t learning the lesson that bringing their belongings to school is their responsibility.

Children learn best through natural consequences. Whenever possible, allow your child to experience the consequences of their actions. Let them get the demerit for forgetting work or lose marks on their homework because it is late. Don’t replace the toy that is left out in the rain and ruined. Help children learn about what happens when they do not follow rules or aren’t responsible for their belongings.

I firmly believe that one of our most important tasks as a parent is to raise independent, resilient children who can venture into the world and solve their own problems. With some forethought and planning, we can help nurture our child’s growing independence!

Remember, REDUNDANCY is our aim as parents!

Tony Williams
Primary School Principal