23 July 2009 03:25 PM

Raising Independent Kids

by Dr. Rick

It’s back-to-school-time again, and the Dr. Rick Blog gets its share of requests for tips on encouraging independence and responsibility in kids of all ages.  Independent, responsible kids need less nagging when it comes to homework and studying, adhering to routines, and establishing healthy values and attitudes about school and learning.


Rearing an independent child starts early.  Each child, like each parent, is unique.  Here are some tips.

  1. Start early.  Independence is a gradual process, best accomplished over time.  Some kids are ready earlier than their brothers and sisters.  Know your children's readiness.  Don't rush them.  Don't hold them back, either.

  2. Give toddlers some small decisions to make.  Vanilla or chocolate?  This storybook or that one?  Help them see the advantages and disadvantages of their choices.

  3. Be patient.  Once you've allowed your youngster to make a choice, let her make it.  Don't step in, even if doing so will make the choosing quicker.  Your expedience is less important than her experience.

  4. Be a good role model.  As in all things parental, your behavior is crucial.  Let children, especially older ones, see how you make decisions, setting goals, weighing consequences, discussing with a trusted friend or mentor. Kids learn their values and attitudes from us adults.  Make sure your child is learning helpful, lifelong ones.

  5. Set goals.  Help your school age children to set goals appropriate for their growth, confidence, and happiness.  Better grade in math?  Improved study habits?  Improved attention in class?  Making the soccer team?  The lead in the school play?  Show him how you set goals and adjust your behavior to meet those goals. Celebrate small successes with him and watch his confidence grow.

  6. Be safe.  Show children of all ages why you make rules for them to follow.  Teach them about the dangers around them, but don't be so scary that you make them fearful.  Kids want to be independent, but they also want to be safe.  Show them that you're always going to make sure they're safe, but they need to be careful, too.  You can't be with them every minute of the day.

  7. Responsibility matters.  With increased independence comes increased responsibility, of course.  As your children become more self-sufficient, they’ll need to accept the responsibility of that self-sufficiency.  Car privileges come with curfews, allowances with completed chores, relaxed rules with accomplished goals.  Show how behavior affects rewards and consequences.

  8. Monitor them.  Don't hover.  Don't take over.  Just be nearby the little ones as they take their first steps to independence (brushing their teeth alone, tying their shoes, getting dressed on time), and let the older ones know you'll be checking up on them periodically (and randomly) as they gain independence. It’s against the Secret Teen Agers’ Rules to say it, but they'll be glad you're there.

  9. Set limits.  Give clear and unambiguous guidelines.  Curfews, call-ins, names of adult chaperones, times, places, who's accompanying them, etc.  Show that these limits come from your love for them and concern for their safety.

  10. Set routines.  Routines are important for all ages of children, infancy to high-schoolers.  (Adults, too, for that matter.)  Routines for bedtime, playtime, mealtime, study time, homework, and rest give kids a sense of security and consistency.  Independence from these routines comes as they earn it, showing responsibility and prudence.

Sometimes it's as difficult for us to let our children be independent as it is for them to achieve it.  Let common sense rule your actions.  Follow your instincts, but also try to remember how important it was for you at that age to accomplish something big and meaningful on your own.  Building confidence is the goal, so support, encourage, and nurture independence while being nearby – physically and emotionally – when they inevitably need you.  Like everything else in parenting, it's a delicate balancing act.


Do you have successful tips on encouraging independence and responsibility?  Share them with us by clicking on Comments below.  We’d love to hear them.




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