Raising Independent Kids

Little children, from the moment in which they are weaned, are making their way toward independence. -Maria Monetessori

In honor of Independence Day, we are celebrating wild and free childhoods, the kind that floods the “grown-up” mind with visions of outdoor play, swimming pools, popsicles, and the freedom associated with just being a kid. But as we know, freedom and independence aren’t actually the same thing. A parent can give their child the freedom to go anywhere on the playground, but the child may lack the independence to go to the sandbox alone. So how can parents encourage a different kind of childhood for their kids —  the kind that fosters independent thinkers, independent explorers, and independent players of all ages?

We asked the experts, and here is what we learned. Many parents see themselves as a “fixer” or “problem solver” to their growing children, often fixing the problem that their child faces, instead of empowering them to figure it out on their own. Harold Koplewicz of The Child Mind Institute recommends that parents see themselves as a “consultant” who give their child the space to explore a problem and offer safety and suggestions as needed instead of a “fixer” who leaps in to save the day.

How to grow your child’s independence

There are so many ways to help our kids grow their independence. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Stop doing everything for them. Allow children to struggle a bit before you jump in to “help.” If a child is learning to tie their shoes, for example, give them time to practice putting them on without your help even when it is frustrating to watch their struggle. Within safety and reason, allow children to do for themselves. When they figure it out on their own, they develop confidence.
  • Give children responsibilities at home. Young children can put their toys away after playing. School-age kids can help with dinner preparation, setting the table, and doing the dishes. Assign age-appropriate chores or responsibilities to teach kids that they are members of a family with you, and that families work together.
  • Teach life skills to your kids. Show them how to do their own laundry and how to make and save money (lemonade stand, anyone?). Let them spend time with you in the kitchen and teach them how to prepare simple meals. And always, teach them how to help others. Kindness goes a long way!
  • Embrace imperfection. We all make mistakes. Kids need to know they can make mistakes too, and that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. To say that we all learn from our mistakes is an understatement. It’s how we learn and grow, and it’s the best way for us to teach our little ones to learn and grow too.
  • Praise their independence. Always. If your son sets the table for dinner without being asked, thank him. If your shy daughter orders her own meal at a restaurant, let her know that you noticed, and what a good job she did. As often as you can, catch their glimmers of independence and celebrate it with them.

This month as we celebrate our nation’s 244th birthday, we feel deep gratitude for those so long ago who felt their own glimmer of independence, and proclaimed our rights to liberty. Perhaps these young, zealous statesmen and women had parents who instilled an independent streak in them too.