by Lori Radun
Do you remember that phase in your child's life when all you heard was "I want to do it!"? You're in a hurry, and you want to help your child get dressed, but your two or three year old will have no part of that. You must wait for 15 minutes while she masters the socks and shoes. Your helpful child, at this age, wants to take out the trash, put away the silverware, bake cookies, and clean the bathroom. What on Earth happens to this independent child?
Not all children, but many, shift into a new phase. Picking up their toys is a dreadful task. Playing is so much more important than doing homework. Getting them to hang up their coat or make their bed is like pulling their two front teeth. In the teenage years, you get another glimpse of independence, but it's not exactly in the areas you might want. Teenagers insist they have all their academics, social relationships, and life in general, under control. You may think differently, but who are you? To a teenager, you're just an old fashioned and unintelligent parent.
Regardless of what children may want or think they need, parents have a job to teach responsibility and independence. It is a lifelong commitment that isn't always so easy, but here are some tips to keep you on track.
Encourage Independence by Refusing to Step In
When your child reaches an age to take on an age-appropriate activity, show your child how to do it, then let go and let your child struggle. It can be hard to watch children fight with their shoelaces, or stumble over their words in a new friendship, but it is in these moments that children are learning. The joy they feel when they gain a little more independence can be very rewarding, and a strong motivator to try new tasks in the future.
Believe in Your Child
Children need to know you believe in them. Encourage your children with positive words such as, "You are a smart girl. You can figure this out." Teach your children to think positively about themselves by modeling this behavior in yourself. The Little Blue Engine didn't give up and the reward was confidence. Confidence builds on itself, and your child will gain greater self esteem when you encourage independence and responsibility.
Build in Life Skills through Routines
Routines give your child practice and repetition. If, for instance, the after school routine includes putting away the lunch box and coat, having a snack, and doing homework, your child learns responsibility as a way of life. If you want your child to have good personal grooming skills, build brushing hair and teeth, and washing face into a morning and bedtime routine. When a child does the same thing over and over, he learns independence without even thinking about it.
Let Children Fall Down and Experience the Consequences
Resist the urge to be a helicopter parent and hover over your child. Life is full of opportunities to succeed and make mistakes. The lesson is reinforced and learning takes place when children are allowed to make mistakes. If your child makes a bad choice, let him experience the natural or imposed consequences. A "D" or an "F" on an exam sends a very clear message that the child needs to study harder. The effect is not the same when you are hounding your child to study so she doesn't fail. When your child makes the choice to extend his curfew by an hour, he loses the privilege of going out the next weekend. Guaranteed he will think twice before staying out late the next time.
Coach your Children towards Independence and Responsibility
When your child is faced with a future or past decision, ask a lot of open ended questions that encourage your child to think for himself. "What do you think you should say to your friend?" "What could you have done differently in this situation?" Giving advice teaches your children what you want and what you think is best. Coaching your children supports them in developing good decision making skills, and honoring what is best for them. It's okay if they don't make the best choice. Live and learn.The goal in raising children is not to protect them from pain or undesirable circumstances, but to equip them with what they need to be responsible, independent and resilient adults.