It’s so easy. We all do it from time to time. We love them so much. We just want to protect our children from anything that might harm them. So we reach out our arm and gather them in. We do their chores for them so they can enjoy a few more moments of play. But these choices carry consequences. When you shelter your children or do what they can do for themselves your children become overly dependent. Worse, they don’t challenge themselves or develop self-confidence.
Learning self-reliance and independence comes early. But it doesn’t happen without your help. You need to support your children by teaching them to be independent. In this article you’ll learn how to encourage your childrens’ independence; how and when to let them do things on their own; what to do when they need help; and what to do when things go wrong.
Let’s Meet Julie
Julie is six years old. She’s shy and indecisive and doesn’t have any close friends. Julie’s teacher, Mrs. Sterling, often keeps Julie company at school and gives her extra help. Mrs. Sterling doesn’t mind. Julie is such a quiet and well-behaved girl.
Then, at a parent-teacher meeting, Mrs. Sterling mentions Julie’s behavior to her parents. She wasn’t always that way, they say. Julie was a wild baby and got into everything. At the time, Julie’s parents were concerned for her safety so they kept Julie in her playpen, put up gates throughout the house and even put her on a leash at times. For her safety, they added.
Eventually, Julie grew out of her wanderlust and became a polite little girl. But maybe we overdid it, say Julie’s parents. Now she isn’t interested in doing anything on her own. She just waits for us to advise her.
Mrs. Sterling suggests that they give Julie a light chore—something she could easily accomplish. Maybe that will help Julie feel like she’s in charge and already has permission to do a good job on her own. Julie’s parents agree.
In a few weeks, Mrs. Sterling notices that Julie is seeking less help and spending longer periods with the other children. Then one day in a burst of pride Julie tells Mrs. Sterling the proper way to empty a dishwasher and put away the dishes. Mrs. Sterling thanks Julie for the lesson and smiles as Julie runs off to play with her new friends.
Now let’s take a look at how you can teach your children independence, self-reliance and the joy of confidence.
Parents need to support their children in their natural quest for independence. A great way to do this is with chores. Most kids are in a hurry to grow up; helping out around the house teaches them responsibilities and shows them they can make a difference through their actions.
But be careful. Your child can sense if you’re concerned about their abilities. Let them know that it’s a big help to have them involved and give them jobs they can accomplish. If you’re apprehensive about their safety or performance give them another job.
Children who are allowed to do things on their own develop self-reliance. Early on, leave your child alone for small periods. They’ll learn that they’re safe and can do things without you in the same room. Later, friendships teach them to cope in different situations. Chores, hobbies and homework develop independence, too. Here are some methods to help your children succeed on their own.
• Model self-reliance in your own behavior.
• Show them step-by-step how a project is done.
• Make sure they know the goal so they go in the right direction.
• Make the project fun! Time it. Do it backwards. Dance. Make a game out of it.
• Set timelines for a project, but let your children complete it their own way.
• Let them do the job in parts so they succeed each time they work on it.
• Let them fail. Let your children try things their way and learn from failure.
• When they forget to do a chore, show them the consequences, but don’t do the job for them.
Knowing when to step in and help your child with a project can be challenging. Here are some guidelines, but observe how your children solve problems and support them appropriately.
• Step in to support your children when their approach is unsafe, unhealthy or disruptive.
• In general, make yourself available to help, but encourage them to work through any snags they hit on their own.
• If you do step in, emphasize what’s working and then suggest ways to do the job better, or consider doing the job together.
• If the job is done well enough… leave well enough alone. Perfection is not the aim. Unless the work needs to be corrected for a very good reason congratulate your children on their efforts. And praise them often.
Learn from Mistakes
Part of self-reliance means learning from mistakes. Here are some tips to help your children keep going when things go wrong.
• Tell them everyone makes mistakes.
• Tell them it’s the effort that counts.
• Tell them you love them no matter what.
• Point out what they did right.
• Ask them how they could do it differently.
• Encourage them to do the job using their new approach.
Protecting your children from harm is vital, but it’s also important to allow them to explore, to engage in life and even to fail. That’s how they learn self-reliance. In the long run, if children aren’t taught independence they lack self-confidence—and that’s very difficult to learn later on.
Encourage your children’s independence. Teach them how to do things on their own and support them as they learn. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts you can teach your children is to learn from their mistakes and to fill their lives with the confidence and self-reliance necessary to succeed.
Dr. Charles Sophy, author of the “Keep ‘Em Off My Couch” blog, provides real simple answers for solving life’s biggest problems. He specializes in improving the mental health of children. To contact Dr. Sophy, visit his blog at http://drsophy.com.