Since my children were very young (a few months old) I have encouraged their sense of independence. I felt comfortable leaving them to play at my feet as babies or in their room or our backyard as they got older. I wanted them to always test the boundaries and also know that I would be there if they needed me.
My younger daughter is extremely independent and has known her own mind seemingly from birth. Since she was less than a year old she has been picking out her own clothes. If she did not like what I had picked she would do whatever was necessary to express that even as a toddler (including body manoeuvers to avoid said clothing being put on her body). As she got older I learned to either let her take full control there or that I should accept her need to change her clothes as desired.
In some ways it was easier when they were younger to give them freedom to find their own ways, explore and learn through trial and error. With every year that passes the stakes seem higher and it can take some effort to stand back and let them learn the lessons they are meant to learn.
Here are some ways I have worked on over the years to let them grow up to be independent kids full of confidence in themselves.
Let them try their way of getting things done
It might be different or not quite up to your standards yet, but only with practice can they find their way forward. Freedom with little instruction can breed creative thinking. Sometimes the ideas and solutions my kids come up with are actually better than mine (as they are in the thick of things) and we would never have learned that great new way if I always insisted on my way or the highway.
Let them make mistakes and figure out a solution
Since we adults have already walked the path our children find themselves on it can be very tempting to intervene all the time. We want so much to save them from pain and heartache. We want to steer that ship safely to harbour, but they can never learn to sail if we are at the helm all the time. There is so much to learn in those first 18-20 years and the best source of knowledge is first hand experience.
Let them sort out their battles with siblings as much as possible
I admit this has been harder for me in recent times as sometimes what I want most in this world is a little bit of peace and quiet, but (as much as I can) I do tell them to sort it out themselves.
Most kid squabbles are minor and prove to be great teaching ground for compromise, negotiation, empathy, compassion and articulating what you want and why. I would simply be depriving them of that opportunity. We don’t have many rules in this house so I simply remind them of our two big ones and limit my intervention to enforcing those. My non-negotiables are “keep your hands and feet to yourself” and “no means no” (even if someone is laughing or uses another word that still implies they are unhappy). Those two rules cover off many things and the rest of their day to day living is up to them to negotiate from what they choose to watch on TV to whose turn it is to how they speak to each other and play games.
Let them do things for themselves
Whether it is making a snack or lunch, picking out their clothes, learning to cut food or any other skill, the more they can practice and do for themselves the greater their sense of pride and self worth will be. They don’t just gain a skill, but seem to gain height – they stand taller, beam with pride and the knowledge that they can now do something for themselves without you. Even if we can do it faster or “better” the long term gains here are important.
If you have a child who is hesitant to try things on their own try to encourage them and act as a support person guiding if necessary but don’t take over. This is when kids learn the art of patience and practice and that new skills come over time. When we do it things look easy as we have been doing them forever. They have to be reminded that we are all beginners at something. It is great if you can make sure you show your kids when you are learning a new skill as to them it can seem like we know everything.
Let them organise their things in their own way
When your child organises their own space and possessions in their own way it can reflect their own personality, what makes sense to them and they are more likely to put things away. It may seem illogical to you, but usually there is a reason why they do things their way – even if it is simply to keep their favourite things all within their field of vision (think cluttered desk or bedside table) or to comfort them (think beds full of books, stuffed toys, favourite game etc).
If we always shelter our kids and do things for them they will not be equipped for the real world and bigger choices when they are older. I am a firm believer in letting them work out the kinks of decision making, learning decent judgement, finding their own ways now (while I am here as a sounding board when needed) rather than later when the stakes are much higher. I don’t want their first big decisions to involve any of the big three (alcohol, sex or drugs) where their lack of experience in trusting their own instincts might lead them to just follow their friends.
Every time I loosen the controls at home now I think of the long term gains to be won.
Do you have any tips for encouraging kids independence or building their confidence?
Find your simple,
Since it’s Tuesday i link up with Jess for IBOT. Go check out all the awesome posts over there.