Jan 29, 2013

"I do it myself" - developing independence in children

Today was one of those days.  Wait... it wasn't one of THOSE days... it was a day like this:

When I came out to the kitchen after my shower this morning, I discovered my seven year old standing on a chair in front of the counter.  She was fully dressed, hair was brushed and pulled back into a (rather messy) ponytail, and she was (get this) making her lunch.

Yes.  Cheerfully spreading some peanut butter on some whole wheat bread, just a little honey and folding it together like a champ.  She collected her snack, a couple of pieces of fruit and filled her water bottle and packed it all up in her Littlest Pet Shop lunch bag.

As I stood amazed, my 9 year-old son came wandering out of his room, got a couple bowls down from the cupboard and got himself and his sister some cereal for breakfast.

I knew I wasn't dreaming because I had gotten up early that morning to go for a 2 mile walk in 37 degree weather (and who would even dream of doing that?!)

I made myself some coffee and chatted with my kids as they amazed me with their capabilities. 

Before you roll your eyes and write me off (bragging mama)... let me tell you... this isn't normal. 

There is a reason that the phrase "circus" is in the title of my blog.  The norm is a lot of rushing and repeated demands... there might be circus music playing in my head as my kids laugh like loons and run in circles around me.

I was floored because I didn't know how that happened. (I've been training them to do it, but up to today I've had to force them)...  I don't expect it to happen again.

AND my son balked when I told him to make his lunch... begged me to do it for him instead...

I said no.

So, how does one garner independence in children? Starting from infancy and the ability to self-sooth, all the way to the teen years and their first job, a healthy sense of independence is a valuable tool that children need to become successful adults.  I was recently told that "independence" may not be the best word, because we are meant to "do life together", which is interdependence... I still think that while I always want my children in my life, I don't want them to live in my house forever... so I am working toward independence for them.

Tip 1: Never do for your child what he/she is able to do for him/herself.
This is one I have found challenging for about 9 years. It is easier at times to just take care of it, to not have to watch them struggle with their seat belt, to not have to deal with a toilet clogged with half a roll of toilet paper or listen to the whining voice complaining that they can't do it.

As a mother of a 9 and 7 year old, I am quickly realizing that my children are capable of doing so much more than I give them credit for, and yet, they seem to be okay with me doing it for them.

I think as a mother I also experience a little bit of guilt that I am subconsciously forcing my children to do things for themselves because I am selfish and lazy, and don't want to work any more... and when it comes to dusting, that is SO true. I am mostly kidding, but really think that somewhere inside many mothers, this is a potential hidden thought.

Being independent is so good for kids. It builds self-esteem, it gives confidence, it fosters more independence. Who wouldn't want a child who can make his own breakfast and lunch? Who wouldn't want a teenager who can responsibly take care of their own car?

Tip 2: Teach your child how to think for him/herself.

Again, easy to say, not always easy to implement. Some parents (me) sometimes hover like little helicopters over every little things their kids do, quick to swoop in and "rescue" them.  Other parents (me again) often act as a Drill Sargent and yell directives at their children demanding instant compliance.  Still others (not so much me), after watching helicopter and Drill Sargent parents, decide to go MIA and let their kids "just be kids", by not parenting, being hands-off or giving their children too much independence at a young age.

Like everything, it's a balance.  There are different ways to implement this.
  •  Ask more questions - Make fewer demands (Instead of  "Go hang up your towel", ask "What should you do with your towel when you are done with it?";  Instead of "Go wash your hands", ask "What should you do when you get home from school?  Did you do that?"; Instead of "Eat these carrots for snack", ask "Is there a healthier choice you can make OTHER than chocolate pudding and Oreos?")
  • Give them room to think - Kids don't have as much practice as us in making decisions.  Give them time and room to make decisions or think through their actions.  If we are always quick to make decisions for them ("What would you like to wear? Oh NEVERMIND, just wear these pants and that shirt and HURRY UP we are going to be LATE!") they won't learn to make decisions on their own.   It might mean starting some of your routines a little earlier, to give them the opportunity to practice decision making.
  • Give them choices to make - (just make sure you like all the options).  For example, if your 9 year old has homework, chores and piano practice and wants to watch TV, you might discuss if they would rather do their homework or chores before practice, and do the other after... before they watch TV.  They will like the option and will feel a little more in control of their schedule.  Or offering options for potential outfits for your fussy dresser. 
  • Give them a safe place to fail - Sometimes the decisions your kids make may result in failure or "natural consequences" - it's good to let them experience failure sometimes, especially when they are young, when the failure is smaller and the consequences not as permanent.  One poor example of this is letting your child "choose" to play in a busy street... getting hit by a car is permanent... keep your kids safe!
  • Finally, creating boundaries to create freedom - Rules are rules and you should enforce them.   Kids need a framework that they can grow within.   Healthy Boundaries help us develop healthy relationships, learn to deal with our emotions, give us self-confidence and form good behaviors.  

Tip #3: Give your kids confidence with unconditional love
Hey, I didn't say this was going to be easy! {I add this one caveat: If you don't feel unconditionally loved, you won't be able to unconditionally love... ever}  If a child fears that his or her failure will result in a disappointment so great that it will diminish love or acceptance from a parent, they will not feel confident to risk failing. 

God loves us with a love that is slow to anger, full of compassionate mercy and abounding with grace.  That is how we should love our children.   Just like us, they are imperfect and struggling to do their best.  When we offer our kids love that isn't impacted by their behavior, we offer them a solid foundation to  jump from.   If they fail, and we still accept and love them fully, they will be far more likely to try again, without fear of failure. 

Just like us, they need someone to look at them and say (100 times a day) "No matter what you DO, I will love you just the same.  You can't do anything to make me love you more, you can't do anything to make me love you less.  I LOVE YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE YOU, and THAT IS ENOUGH."

That's what God is saying to us... you know that?

Read this for YOU from GOD: No matter what you DO, I will love you just the same.  You can't do anything to make me love you more, you can't do anything to make me love you less.  I LOVE YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE YOU, and THAT IS ENOUGH.  YOU are enough.

Now... go and do likewise.  

This post is a part of my "Becoming a Parent of Excellence" series... which is slow coming, but I am working on it...

To see more on Monkey training (aka parenting) click the above link...

Linked up with a couple of spots! Weekend Bloggy Reading


  1. Oh choices....My 14 year old daughter struggles with choices. Forget taking her to 31 Flavors Ice Cream, we'll be there for hours with her trying to make up her mind. I'm trying to help her be a decision maker, but husband just gets frustrated and decides for her. Hmmm What to do...

  2. Such wonderful, practical advice! Did the kids get their breakfast again? I hope they did!

    I nominated you for a Liebster Award. Please see my post about it here: http://www.onepartjoyonepartcircus.com/

  3. That's some great advice! I don't have kids but my impression is that many parents make decisions for them because it's a "quick fix". Oh, this busy world....it's not easy though, I understand that. I have a hard time with just myself, my hubby and our house :). Btw thanks for the reminder about God's unconditional love. I always need such reminders.

  4. Excellent advice. I'm guilty of doing everything myself just because I don't have the patience to deal with the complaining and the "I'm purposely going to mess this up big time so mom never ask's me to do it again" mentality. I fall for it every time! :)

  5. Hi AJ,

    What fun to see those times of independence! I;mn impressed that you went running in the cold too. Aiye. I need to do that but keep waiting for better weather. :)

    Have a great week.

    Jennifer Dougan


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