by Leigh Swanson and Lynn Louise Wonders
Parenting in many ways is about balance. Parenting kids for independence can feel like tricky territory.
You know your ultimate job is to prepare your child for independence into adulthood. You also know it’s your job to nurture your child along the way. Finding balance between encouraging independence and nurturing can feel like a challenge.
Some parents rely on their children to act like little adults which can rob kids of their right to just be kids. Other parents go to the other extreme, catering to their child’s every need which does not help children to develop independence.
Here are a few tips for helping your child develop independence while still receiving all the love, nurturing and attention they need:
- Don’t underestimate snuggles, hugs, and pats. Kids of all ages still need that loving connection in the form of affection. At all ages, a loving hug or warm pat on the back goes a long way in reminding your child that no matter what he is loved. Even the “coolest” teenager can be encouraged with your ongoing doses of love and affection.
- Independence begins with personal care. A good place to begin encouraging your child’s independence is with her ability to take care of her own personal care. Encourage her to brush her hair and teeth herself. Teach your child to do pick up his dirty clothes and take them to the laundry room. Later, she can clean up the bathroom after she gets ready in the morning. He can learn to wash his own clothes eventually and make his own bed. Kids can learn very early to be responsible for cleaning up after themselves and taking care of their bodies’ basic needs.
- Age appropriate chores. Household chores are a great way to build independence and responsibility. Contributing the running of the household is a great self-esteeem booster (even if they grumble about it). But, keep the tasks age appropriate. For example an 11 year old shouldn’t have an hour of daily chores but would do well with 20 minutes of special jobs. A 4 year old can fold wash cloths while you fold the towels. A teenager can do chores that take a longer time to complete. Maybe your teen can make sure everyone is home safely and then send you a text or cook dinner one night a week.
- Collaborative projects. If you need longer projects completed you can invite your child to help you, providing him an opportunity to contribute and see he is an important part of the project.
- Increase responsibility over time. The goal is to provide your child opportunities to be successful incrementally in a way that matches their developmental abilities. You can then increase or expand those responsibilities over time as they get older and more capable to achieve longer and more complex tasks.
- Foster positive view of self. Your job is to teach your child that she is capable and effective in her world. Through these opportunities to be responsible you show her that she can get things done correctly without you prodding and nagging.
- Let go of the need for perfection. Keep your need for control in check. This is not about you or your child doing things perfectly. This is about the process of helping your child learn that he can achieve age-appropriate responsibility and independence.
Imagine a time line starting at birth when your child is completely dependent to launching to college and they are (almost) completely independent. Now, picture your child is off at college, living in a dorm room. Have her experiences at home prepared her? Can she wash her own clothes? Clean her room? Plan for what she will wear? Use an alarm clock to get himself up for class?
Start slowly and work your way up as they get older. Don’t criticize if it is hard for him but encourage the effort he is putting forth and your belief he has what it takes.
Leigh Swanson, LAPC is a specialist in parenting issues having trained with the only Certified expert at the Yale Parenting Center and having had years of experience counseling children and their parents. Leigh provides parenting training, consultations and therapy services. To contact Leigh directly for a parenting consultation, you can email her firstname.lastname@example.org or call 404-436-1028
Lynn Louise Wonders built her career on leading parenting trainings and working with child clients and their parents and teachers in agencies, preschools and child development centers since 2002. Lynn now trains and supervises therapists working toward license and certification in play therapy in addition to writing for Primrose Schools parenting blog and offering public talks at local schools, colleges and child development centers on childhood development and parenting. You can contact Lynn directly at email@example.com or 404-455-5805