Everyday Ways to Foster Independence
As parents, we want nothing more for our children than to grow up and be strong, independent and self-motivated individuals. And as parents, it’s our job to make sure that that’s exactly what they become. But where as a lot of parents think they can begin fostering this kind of independence at about the same time they pack them up for college, independence should be something that parents should begin to foster early on.
So that it doesn’t feel as if you’re trying to shove your 3 year old out of the next though, we’ve put together this list of very basic things you can do every day to shape your little ones into young adults who aren’t afraid of the world around them.
Make Lots of Time for Free Play
Yes, play dates and library time and structured classes are important parts of the developmental process, but it’s the unstructured play time – the time where they’re left to their own devices to come up with fun games, magical play lands and even imaginary friends – when they grow the most.
Being a helicopter parent is not only stressful for you, the parent, but it’s unhealthy for children as well. In order for children to become their own, independent, decision-making adults, they need to be given free range to make decisions for themselves. They need to be given the opportunity to figure out what they like to do, and to decide what they want to do based off the mood they’re in. They need to be able to make their own mistakes, scrape their knees, color outside the lines, push the boundaries and then learn from it all.
Let Them Get Frustrated
Whether your child is learning how to tie their shoes, ride their bike or use a computer, it’s important to let them get frustrated before stepping in to help them. When an individual becomes frustrated with something they don’t know how to do, it drives them to invent solutions. This either leads to new discoveries or mistakes, both of which are fundamental to learning. Furthermore, when a child is trusted to figure stuff out for him or herself, it encourages them to want to try more and more new things.
Let Them Work Out Their Own Problems
When you and your partner have a fight, do your parents come over, sit you down and tell you how it should be resolved? No. But if they did, would you welcome that kind of mediation? Probably not, because if they did do this, you and your partner would never be able to resolve your problems on your own. If you’re constantly stepping between your children when they begin to raise their voices, you’re denying them the opportunity to work out their problems on their own, a fundamental ability when it comes to building and maintaining relationships.
While you should step in if you feel the situation is getting out of hand, by letting your children work out their problems amongst themselves, you’re teaching them how to compromise, let go of issues that really aren’t that serious and to handle disagreements – a very real and permanent part of life – in a calm and civilized manner.
Treat Them Like People
I know this may seem like an obvious statement, but when you think about how many adults baby talk to kids, and how many adults don’t really take their children’s problems or emotions seriously, it’s obvious that treating children like individuals is not common practice.
Like adults, children are going to experience their fair share of bad days. However, many people tend to write off a child’s bad day to “moods” or, worse yet, “not knowing what real problems are.” Instead of doing this though, sit down with your child and ask them why their day was bad. When they tell you, ask them what about that situation made them upset. And, like if you were talking to another adult, provide them with good advice about how to handle future situations like it, or simply sympathize with them.
Listening to them and validating their emotions is much better than making them feel as if their feelings are unjustified – because no matter how trivial their situation may seem to you, it was important to them. Furthermore, if your child pouts because you said “no” to them, don’t get mad at them. Instead, ask them why they’re upset that you said no. While you don’t have to change your answer based on theirs, this gives you an opportunity to explain to them why you said no in the first place.
Treating children like the individuals they are show them that their thoughts and ideas are valid, and that we – as their parents – trust their instincts and ability to think for themselves.
When you provide a safe environment in which your children can flex their independent muscles now, you’re guaranteeing that they’ll be prepared in situations where independent thinking really counts.
I think this is an important thing to realize, the need for independence, especially if you're trying to raise a creative thinker. Thanks for this great advice.