Parenting is a full-time job. We often collapse at the end of the day, exhausted and wondering where the time went. If we were to examine how we’ve used up the day, most of us would find that we’re doing too much for our kids.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s only natural for parents to do what they can to keep their kids healthy and safe. However, habitually doing things for your kids that they’re capable of doing themselves inadvertently sends the message that you don’t have confidence in their abilities. Ultimately, it does them more harm than good.
A study recently published by the American Psychological Association found that over-controlling parents—often referred to as helicopter parents—do their children a great disservice. This parenting style leads to children who have low self-esteem, poor problem-solving skills and who are unable to cope with the challenging demands of growing up.
Kids need to learn, make mistakes and grow on their own. Giving them the space to do this has a huge payoff—confident, capable kids well on their way to autonomy and independence as teens. It also results in more tasks in your parental in-tray thereby freeing up some much-needed time.
Teaching Kids To Be More Independent
Parenting research out there suggests that the best way to help your kids become more independent is by practicing appropriate autonomy granting. This means finding ways to allow and support your child’s independence by setting them up to succeed in certain independent tasks, e.g., dressing themselves, doing some household chores, making their school lunch, and other tasks that are appropriate for their age and abilities.
Here are some tips on how you can teach your children to be more autonomous.
1. Go at their pace. Giving your kids age-appropriate chores is a great way to teach them responsibility while having them help around the house. As you assign tasks, take into account your child’s individual capabilities and provide chores where they can succeed.
One five-year-old might be comfortable brushing their teeth and dressing by themself, while another might prefer pouring their own cereal in the morning. Go at their pace and let them tackle tasks that they’re capable of doing. Also, introduce chores gradually, so your kids don’t become overwhelmed with their new responsibilities.
2. Give them choices and options. Your child is likely to be more willing to take on certain tasks if you give them different choices. A good way to cultivate ownership over these tasks is to involve them, e.g., creating a chore chart together, and asking your child what he feels comfortable taking on. That way, he’s likely to get those chores done and with minimal grumbling. A win-win all round!
3. Slow down and make time. Rushing in the morning and evening denies kids the chance to try their hand at doing stuff for themselves. Start by setting aside more time in your daily schedule to accommodate your children. For instance, if your daughter takes 10 minutes to dress, start your morning 10 minutes earlier. Kids are more likely to cooperate if they don’t feel micromanaged or rushed.
4. Check your expectations and embrace imperfection. Accept that your kids won’t do tasks as well as you would. Things will go wrong at some point, and if my own children are typical, things often go wrong the first few times children try new tasks.
Learning takes time, and plenty of mistakes will be made along the way. Maybe they will break some dishes, and their clothes won’t always match. That’s okay, they’re learning in the process. Instead of criticizing, teach your kids to clean up after themselves and assure them that everyone messes up. It’s part of life.
5. Make some modifications for success. Sometimes, your kids might be willing to help but the frustrations of dealing with a world that isn’t designed with kids in mind stop them from participating like your children would like to do. You can work your way around this by making small modifications in your home.
For instance, you can buy a small, child-sized cordless vacuum so they can lend a hand in keeping the carpets clean. You can also place a small step-stool by the sink so your child can help with the dishes or place some hooks at child level in the closet so they can hang up their own things.
6. Give lots of positive feedback. Continuous criticism would put a damper on anyone, let alone a young child who is only just starting to learn how to do things for themselves. A better way to parent is to give lots of positive feedback and to praise your child’s efforts, not the outcomes.
If they do get things wrong—and they will—put a positive spin on it, then gently correct them. This way, you’ll build their self-esteem and resilience which will, in turn, encourage them to keep working at things, even if it gets challenging.
No doubt your child will succeed some days and struggle on others. There will be plenty of frustration and tears along the way, but that’s how children grow. Praise their efforts, encourage them to keep trying and lend a hand when they need it. Because by teaching your children to be more independent, they might just surprise you with how capable they are.