Develop Your Child’s Independence
By Jane Rees and Henry Chai
As a parent you know only too well how quickly time flies. You know too that optimal independence based on their abilities is the eventual goal of your child’s development. Still, teaching your children the required skills can be frustrating and, at times, daunting. Check out these 10 basic principles to help you and your child prepare
1) This or that
In life, there are a lot of choices to make and being able to make decisions is a big part of successful independence. As a parent you can foster good decision-making by providing your child with simple choices rather than asking open-ended questions. Try offering your child a blueberry smoothie or an orange rather than ask what they want for snack. Similarly you could ask your child which two of four chores they want to do, or whether they want to do them after school or after dinner.
2) Playing games
The time you spend engaging in play with your child is both fun and beneficial. Through play, children learn cognitive, social and emotional skills that they will need in the future. Playing games involves focusing, thinking through steps, learning to follow rules, taking turns and developing patience to wait.
Games teach a child to accept the outcomes and the accompanying feelings of delight or discouragement when they win or lose. Being present to work through your son or daughter’s feelings with them will help better prepare your youngster for the defeats and the triumphs that await.
Consider an age/ability appropriate puzzle. Younger children will likely enjoy simple, old-fashioned card games like snap or crazy eights or perhaps board games like Snakes and Ladders. Scrabble or chess might challenge older children. As a bonus, when the activity is done with an attentive parent, children can learn to enjoy companionship as they play, which is as important a life skill as any.
3) Helpful Harry
You may be busy with an endless list of “things to do.” Why not ask your child to help out as you go? It takes a bit longer in the moment but it should be worthwhile in the long run. Learning to accomplish things and finish tasks is critical to your child’s developing self-reliance. By providing things to do and praising them when they are done, you’re encouraging responsibility for completing jobs.
Naturally, the tasks that a child can perform depend on their ability. Experiment to see what your child can and likes to do. Then it will be more fun. Young children can put away toys, carry dishes from the table and put clothes in the laundry. Older children can do yard work, make lunches and keep their rooms tidy. Teens pose special challenges when it comes to chores; that’s why it’s important to establish habits when children are small.
4) Praise and support
We all want our children to have a positive self-image and like to say “Good job!” It’s important, however, to ensure the praise has been earned or you risk lowering their motivation to achieve.
If your child is struggling, be sure you are available to support and encourage them. Gently but firmly nudging kids as they work to achieve their goals requires patience. It may be discouraging and seem like you’re not getting anywhere, but most children want to win approval and will do their best. It helps to break down the tasks into small achievable steps and give supportive messages such as, “I know you can do it,” or “Keep at it – you’re making progress.”
5) Hold back suggestions
Remember too, if children can or want to handle something by themselves, it’s usually wise to let them try if you’re there to provide guidance. Self-direction is a valuable skill that even a toddler can learn. It helps with making choices and taking initiative and bolsters self-esteem. Hold back and wait until a child really does need help, then step in and assist.
6) Set reasonable expectations
Sometimes, stepping in to show children how they can improve risks damaging their self-esteem, makes them feel like a failure and stops them from having the confidence to complete that task in the future. Or, it might encourage perfectionist behaviour, as they strive over and over to get it just right. To help your child find balance, acknowledge their frustrations, set reasonable expectations and focus on their effort rather than achievement.
7) Finding positives in negatives
Making mistakes can’t help but sting a bit, but it’s just part of the learning process. When children make a mistake, help them to see it as an opportunity to improve. Teach them to step back, analyze the situation and reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Then help your child to brainstorm about how to correct what went wrong.
Be sure to congratulate your child as they try new things. It’s one of life’s greatest lessons that there is learning in failure and a silver lining in every dark cloud.
8) Back to basics
Taking the time to instruct your children at the appropriate level on money management issues, meal preparation, shopping and personal care helps to build their independence gradually. This decreases the chance of your child becoming overwhelmed when they have to do “it” on their own. Furthermore, by taking on a few issues at a time, your child will gain confidence to tackle life’s larger challenges, as they arise.
9) Let go gradually
Naturally, we don’t expect every child to be the same so try not to expect too much of your child before they’re ready. The world can seem frightening and if they aren’t prepared could lead to withdrawal, fear or clinginess. Allow your child to linger, or go slowly, if need be.
10) Accepting who they are
Your child has gifts and limitations. Their situation may be changing for better or worse. You know them better than anyone, usually better than they know themselves. Help each of them to understand their strengths and weaknesses in positive ways. Talk about who they are and who they can be. Encourage them to be kind to themselves, to see the beauty in what others might find as negative, and to be kind to others.
Jane Rees recently graduated from Centennial College’s graduate certificate program in Corporate Communications and Public Relations and is a former social worker. Henry Chai is a student at York Mills Collegiate Institute.