Independence has many great benefits for your child. So how do you make sure your child grows into an independent and confident young person?
‘I can’t find it!’, ‘can you do it?’, ‘I don’t know how!’… would you like to never hear these phrases again?! OK, I’m exaggerating, I can’t get rid of those words from your child’s vocabulary. But what if I told you it’s actually really easy to encourage your child to become more independent?
I know how difficult it can be to encourage your child’s independence, or to know how to support them to develop their independence skills. As a mother, I have had my own struggles with this, so I truly know how you feel. I’m going to share a little of my own story first, so if you are not here to read the personal stuff, feel free to skip through to the tips lol!
So, like most of us, I have my own childhood demons which has affected how I raise my children. We all bring these demons to the table when we become parents ourselves, either knowingly or unknowingly. My demon: as a child, I was given a huge amount of chores, which led to me becoming very resentful of being excessively forced to help around the house. This was a very strong feeling that lingered with me until I had my own children.
I felt incredibly conflicted on encouraging independence in my own children: On one hand, I had studied child development extensively, and had had a long career with young children – I could clearly see the positive need for children to be independent and its benefits. But, I still always had in the back of my mind the feeling of resentment I had as a child, and the emotional connection to my own children somehow blurred the lines between logical thinking and needing to ‘protect’ my children from that same feeling I had suffered with. I found this gave me strong feelings of emotional conflict whenever I asked my child to do any form of chore, and left unchecked, could have affected my children’s childhoods too.
For this reason, I always encourage parents to evaluate their own negative experiences during their childhood, and reflect on how this affects your parenting in practice. I was in the lucky position to recognise I was bringing baggage into my parenting journey on this occasion – however I am sure there are many aspects of parenting baggage I have still yet to discover, much like most of us. Your story will probably not be the same as mine, and that’s important, but it’s really worth considering your own history and analysing if there is anything potentially stopping your child from succeeding at independence.
What are the benefits of my child being independent?
There are so many benefits to having an independent child. Here are just a few of them:
- Increased confidence. Children who are independent feel capable and confident. They know they can handle things by themselves, and tackle new challenges.
- Increased motivation. Children who know they can do things independently are more motivated to learn and try new things, so they feel more desire to seek out challenges.
- Improved social skills. Children who are independent often display better social skills when communicating with their peers. They can figure out how to play and build relationships with greater confidence, and will seek out friendships independently.
- Increased self regulation. Independent children are more able to self regulate their emotions, as they learn they can deal with their feelings independently.
- Increased curiosity. Much like with increased motivation, children who are independent know they can take risks and try new things. This makes them more aware of their surroundings, and more likely to explore and seek out new experiences.
- Benefits for learning. Child who are independent are able to learn more effectively, as they do not need to wait for adult support and are more confident to take risks.
- Decrease in separation anxiety. Children who know they can cope in a wide range of situations feel more confident without their parents. This has many benefits for social situations where you are not present, such as childcare or school.
- Increased decisiveness. Child who are independent are more likely to be able to make their own decisions confidently.
- Parental benefits. The more children can do by themselves, the less time you have to spend doing things for them. Bonus!
How do I encourage my child to be independent?
Now you know why you should encourage your child to be independent, here are some ways you can put this into practice:
- Provide love and support. This first one kind of goes without saying when you consider your job as a parent. But I think it cannot be understated how important this is for your child: a child who knows they are loved unconditionally knows you have their back, and knows they can come to you if they need support or guidance.
- Provide encouragement. I believe the way you do this is important – I am a great fan of using specific feedback for positive encouragement. This means rather than just saying ‘well done’, tell them what they did well. This could be something like ‘it makes me so happy when you do up your own buttons, good job!’, which tells them exactly what they did well, and encourages them to want to do this again in the future.
- Provide modelling. Children do need instruction and modelling of how to do many things in life, and probably wont learn to do things such as tying shoelaces without your support at first. Taking the time to teach these skills can sometimes feel frustrating to parents (it often takes so much longer, I get it!), but in the long run it will be so much better for everyone involved if your child learns the skill independently.
- Provide opportunities. Children need to be provided with opportunities to practice their independence. If there is something your child could do independently, but hasn’t quite mastered yet, such as getting dressed independently or chopping up vegetables, plan a bit of extra time into your routine to let them practice. You may need to consider how you approach the activity for someone inexperienced, such as different resources.
- Provide them with control. Children need to have some areas in their life that they feel in control of, as they can often feel quite helpless – they are often told what to do and when for the majority of their day. By letting them make simple choices, you enable them to feel powerful and competent.
- Give them responsibility. Jobs such as chores and pet care are great ways to teach children to be responsible and independent. Make this really clear so there is no doubt the particular job is their responsibility – this works best when the jobs are chosen in conjunction with your child. If you child is younger, you could use a chore chart, as a visual reminder can be helpful. (I love this super fun magnetic board by Melissa and Doug https://amzn.to/36COfHL)
- Encourage accountability. Children need to learn that their actions have consequences to develop into independent beings. Making excuses for their actions, however well meaning, can encourage your child to be dependent on you to handle difficult situations. For younger children, a reward chart works well – this magnetic one is my favourite https://amzn.to/2Bc1Aev.
- Encourage curiosity. Children who are curious seek knowledge, and seeking knowledge leads to the intrinsic motivation needed to be independent and self confident.
I hope you found these tips useful. Remember, it is never too late to tackle any family issues you are currently having – you can do this!
Do you have any others of your own? What’s your childhood baggage? Do you have any other issues you find challenging? Please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.
Love, Heather x
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