Most parents and guardians go through a time where they are torn between wanting their children to remain babies forever but also wondering when they will be independent enough to do things for themselves. In particular, mothers tend to adopt a larger role of responsibility towards children, one that often cannot go from doing everything to expecting more from children. Continuing to do everything for a child hinders emotional growth and delays independence.
In fact, at all ages, children are trying to achieve their own independence, and at the same time, they are a little or even very scared of the separation that independence implies. It is important for parents and guardians to foster transitions to greater independence gradually but genuinely as children grow older. Your role is to alleviate fear, show what is possible and give a sense of security that, no matter what your children try, you will be accompanying them.
Method 1 of 3: Model Independence
Step 1. Model independence
When teaching your children about independence, first remember to be independent yourself. There is a healthy balance necessary in all your relationships that helps you maintain your own independence and individuality. If you can resist being on your own, your children will learn this from you.
- Problems will arise if you are too heavy a parent or guardian. For example, the so-called “helicopter parent” is one who cannot bear to be separated from the child but is on top of their every action, to “be there” and to “guarantee safety”. This usually comes from anxiety or concerns of your own, and will generally require a personal spiritual quest to overcome it. Children in such upbringing may grow up anxious and fearful of independence. Do your best to handle your own fears and not to pass them on to your children.
- Look at the model you are showing your children regarding your main relationship with your spouse or partner. Codependent, complicated, or submissive behaviors with the other caregiver can send children useless signals, which in turn can also teach them to be afraid of being apart. For your own sake and that of the children, such behaviors must be overcome.
Step 2. Teach your children that it is okay to be alone
Help your children see that it is acceptable and sometimes desirable to be alone at times, to peacefully disagree with someone else's opinion, or to want personal time.
Aim to model healthy conflict in front of your children. While yelling and blaming are not part of raising a child, arguing over something that matters in a calm and moderate way is something every human needs to learn as a useful skill. And there will be times when you will screw up. Instead of pretending it never happened, always apologize. If the child is old enough, explain yourself too
Step 3. Look for opportunities to show examples of your own little individual accomplishments
An example might be something as simple as struggling to open a jar, but not giving up, and struggling to open it without help. Call her attention to the experience by saying something like, "Look, Mom tried so hard, she didn't give up, and she made it!" Your child will then see that you try to achieve things on your own, and that you do it very often.
- Some children tend to give up quickly. It's even more important to model persistence with these children, and to encourage them to keep trying. Don't criticize their efforts; instead, it encourages their growth through repeated attempts. Eventually, success on a task will prevail, with repeated learning and your support.
- When you fail at something, model self-improvement behavior. This is just as important as self-promotion to success. Teach them through your actions that failure can not only be survived, but is an incentive to do something else or even try again based on the lessons learned.
- Remind your children that if they ever feel like they can't do things on their own, you are there and you are going to help them. However, remember that this help can range from physical help to simply offering verbal encouragement because you know that the particular task in front of them is doable and that they will benefit greatly if they do it alone.
Method 2 of 3: Help develop independence
Step 1. Observe your children while they play and in their daily life
Pay close attention to their likes and dislikes. Look for opportunities to talk to them about what they are doing or what they are playing with. It detects the ways in which they can improve their games through simple changes that they can make themselves. These changes can be as easy as adding a book to make a ramp for a toy car or where to place their feet when learning to pedal their bikes.
Step 2. Ask for your child's input and advice on small tasks
Your child will learn that their opinion is important to you. Following their suggestions helps build a child's healthy, internally nurtured self-esteem (rather than the ineffective externally imposed growth driver). Therefore, it is your job to encourage your child's suggestions and make them a valuable resource for the task at hand.
Say something like, “I'm so glad you thought about putting the bread in this basket. This will make dinner a lot easier. "
Step 3. Include your children in daily household chores that involve their own things
It is much easier for children and if we are concerned, for all of them to identify and want to help with things that they care about and are familiar with. Even if it sometimes means you have to go back and “really clean” the areas you asked them to take over, conveying the expectations of responsibility for personal things is worth the extra effort.
- When they are done with their meal, be sure to encourage them to put their dishes in a suitable place (the sink or the dishwasher depending on your family).
- If you want their rooms cleaned, start with achievable goals, like asking them where the books go and letting them keep them. The goal is to show them that you trust them to make small, independent decisions when it comes to their own belongings. This advice can also be extended to personal hygiene.
- Collaboration at home can start as young as 3 years old. Give them small tasks first, then increase the challenges as the child grows.
Method 3 of 3: Set and Loosen Limits
Step 1. Establish structured and unstructured time alone
Let your children choose where they want to be within the established limits and what they want to do. This can include a variety of structured and secure options. This is a time when you don't have to share anything or talk to anyone but simply learn to be entertained independently. If you present it with enthusiasm on your part, a child may see it as exciting.
An example could be: "It is time for you and you can sit on the sofa or at the table and read a book, draw or do puzzles." Being alone tends to be seen as a negative because it is so often used as "time out" or "go to your room alone." Unfortunately, this simply confuses the growing child who associates loneliness with evil. By encouraging alone time as a good time, you can give yourself space quickly when you really need a break, and it won't have negative repercussions
This is an opportunity to present the idea of being alone as a positive aspect of learning self-confidence and life skills in general, and not as a punishment.
Step 2. Help your children see boredom as a healthy reaction, one that teaches them to search within themselves and find solutions
It is not your priority to alleviate a child's boredom. Your priority is to provide a safe home environment in which a child will explore their imagination and discover ways to resolve boredom personally. If you constantly take that option away, it can be more difficult for the child to calm down and seek internal means to alleviate boredom, possibly leaving the door open for risky behaviors. Give yourself a break and allow yourself to get bored too.
Step 3. Extend unstructured boundaries gradually
As your children grow, expect more independence from them and give them more unstructured time. Your trust in your children will go a long way toward helping them mature healthily, and they will see their independence as a privilege, not something to fear.