Parenting Tips to Teach Independence
Independence is an important aspect of growing up. As your child begins to develop a sense of security in their surroundings, you can encourage them to explore independently and take responsibility. Every child is different, and many will have unique needs, which is why continued support, guidance, love and respect are crucial components of raising an independent child.
The first step in encouraging independence for each age group is developing regular schedules and routines, says Kate Benton, PhD., a pediatric psychologist at Northwestern Medicine. Even very young children can learn to follow simple routines, and establishing habits early can really pay off. As kids get older, there are other ways to help kids manage time and complete tasks. Applications on devices are great, but if you’re worried about engagement – or just cutting down your kid’s screen time – an old-fashioned wall schedule is the way to go.
Engage Through Routine
Involvement is a natural precursor to independence, and you can begin involving your child in establishing responsible routines as young as preschool. Allow your child to be in charge of putting their shoes in a cubby, hanging up their coat and backpack when they get home or keeping toys organized.
“Let your child help carry food to the table and clean their own dishes, put their clothes in the hamper, etc.,” says Dr. Benton, “These routines will become the building blocks for future organizational skills and independence.”
Introduce With Responsibility
As your child develops more advanced motor skills, you can encourage independence through functional, daily life skills. For preschoolers and young children, this can mean dressing independently, making their bed or brushing their teeth.
“By school age, kids should be accustomed to having more independence,” advises Dr. Benton. Your child should begin to be responsible for their homework, backpack and even school lunch. Continue to encourage double-checks, but be clear they are now responsible.
At some point, you’ll want to introduce money management. Give your child low-risk opportunities to make choices with their money and live with them. Money management is an important skill, so don’t wait until the consequences are bigger to teach your child about finances.
Guide Through Goals
Helping your child choose appropriate goals is incredibly important for academics, activities and relationships. It’s your role to provide guidance and support as your child tackles new skills and responsibilities. Ask questions instead of giving directions and let your child direct their independence in line with their interests. Help break tasks down to keep them manageable and achievable.
Teach With Consequences
While it’s important to keep feedback positive when you see your child taking responsibility and making an effort, it’s also critical to let your child fail. Independence involves equal parts freedom and accountability; as your child takes on more responsibility in their life, they should be prepared and equipped for repercussions.
“Natural consequences are a part of life, so don’t sweat it if they forget their homework, run late to school or miss a practice,” says Dr. Benton. “They won’t internalize the responsibility if they know you are always double-checking and reminding them.”
Encouraging independence can have lifelong benefits for your child. Growing up with responsibility, encouragement and accountability teaches children to make good decisions, work for their goals and take control of their lives.
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