An independent adult starts as a child who learns how to solve their problems and make good decisions. How do you help them develop their self-sufficiency muscle?
Here are ten things you can do to raise independent children.
Let Them Do Things for Themselves.
As much as you want to help your child get dressed or tie their shoelaces every time, it only teaches them to depend on you, even for simple tasks. Resist the urge to do things for your child because it’s more convenient, faster, or efficient. They will only develop specific skills if they try it for themselves.
If you take some time to watch your child, you’ll likely notice that they want to try things for themself. Even crawling toddlers display the desire to try things on their own when they insist on feeding themselves, even if it means a mess on the floor. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and teaches them to handle the frustration of learning something new and practicing over and over until they get it.
Give Them an Allowance
Budgeting is a skill that’s only developed by practice. It teaches good decision-making and organization skills that your kids will need later on in life for life-changing situations like buying a house or a new car while keeping their household expenses paid.
Give them a monthly or weekly allowance and give them the choice between buying a toy when you’re out shopping or saving up for something bigger. They will learn the patience of saving for what they want and see how quick and easy it is to spend all of your money without proper planning.
It will take multiple tries before tying a secure knot or removing all of the gunk off of dishes the first time. Celebrate their efforts and the steps they took to get to the goal. This will teach them to be self-compassionate and acknowledge what they have done right on the journey to doing better.
Think about how this resiliency will affect them as they grow. They may have to deal with a lousy soccer game or a lost deal at work. They need to know that the quality of their effort still matters.
Focusing on their efforts instead of ‘getting it right’ will help them be resilient and brave when working hard or taking risks.
Expect them to Do the Hard Stuff.
Your oldest child may want to be on the high school track team, which will take extra practice, waking up early, and prioritizing whole and healthy foods in her diet.
It will be challenging, but they can do it because they have developed resilience and know the importance of persevering.
When they fail or make mistakes, help them to get back on track and keep trying. Remind them that the process is just as necessary as the goal.
Talk Them Through Emotional Regulation
Teach them how to manage big and uncomfortable emotions without judging themselves. When they encounter an immense feeling, teach them to recognize it and model self-soothing techniques like breathing, leaving the room or asking an adult for help.
Teach Travel Skills
One of the best ways to teach independence is through travel. On your next trip, engage your kids in the itinerary by asking them to choose between the aquarium or museum or the food you will eat for lunch.
As they grow older, you can ask them to identify historical sites or exciting places to visit or how to make a travel budget. You can also teach them about different cultural norms, help them find their way around unfamiliar places, and teach them essential words in other languages.
Encourage Independent Play
Everyone enjoys some alone time because it allows them to focus inward and let their mind wander. Your children can benefit from this, too. A 2020 Nature Communications study shows that, when left with low social stimulation, the brain increases activity in creativity-related neural circuits to help you fill the gap.
Encourage independent play by setting a timer for your kids and leaving them alone in a room with a basic non-electronic toy. It will teach them to troubleshoot issues, entertain themselves, and learn to fix problems without outside help.
Give Them Some Responsibility
You can help them develop responsibility through chore charts or caring for pets. Give them responsibility in increments and set age-appropriate expectations. If you decide to get a pet when your children are still young, look for kid-friendly dog breeds, like labs or golden retrievers, and animals that are relatively easy to care for.
A toddler who can bring his plate to the sink after eating can move on to washing a small set of dishes at age eight, and then a teen can unload the dishwasher.
Or, your toddler can help you feed the dog and learn to bathe them by watching you. When they are 9 or 10, they can start dishing out dog food and filling up the water bowl, and learning how to scoop the poop.
Stretch Their Problem-Solving Skills
Whenever they encounter an obstacle or make a mistake, they resist the parental instinct to fix it. Help them find solutions to the problem. An excellent way to help them solve problems is to ask, “How?”
Maybe your daughter forgot her soccer boots at home the morning of a big game and had to ask their coach to call you to bring them. Ask her, “How can we ensure you remember next time?”. She might suggest making a note on her daily schedule board or a checklist of things to pack every night.
Support Their Choices
Where it’s appropriate, let your children make their own decisions and support them. This can be like allowing them to choose their mid-afternoon snack or outfit for the day. This will exercise their decision-making and help them be sure of their choices when it’s time for the bigger ones. Even if you would prefer that your 6-year-old wear sneakers to school instead of her glitter cowboy boots, allowing your kids to express themselves is essential.
Raising Independent Kids
While they will always need your support and guidance, they must also learn how to make decisions, solve problems, and be resilient.