5 Tips for Raising Independent Kids Who Still Love You
You’ll be happier now and they’ll thank you later
Parenting human children is possibly the most frightening thing most adults will ever do. Even when things are going along as smoothly as imagined during those pre-children days, many parents will admit to feeling they are always seconds away from a child-related disaster.
Throw in a pandemic, social unrest, and high fructose corn syrup, and it’s understandable to want to encase your kids in a plastic bubble until they turn 21. Or maybe 30.
But we all know that life in any sort of bubble is not a life fully lived. Kids need supervision, structure, and guidance, but it is also good for them to have some space to try things for themselves and occasionally fail. They need age-appropriate space free of helicopters and snowplows.
How to help them help you help them
It may seem scary, but one of the best things you can do is loosen the apron strings, metaphorically speaking (because who actually wears an apron?). Take baby steps, and not with babies – these tips are all for walking, talking, little humans who know how to follow directions, even if they usually don’t want to.
- Learn what kids should be able to do and when they should be doing it
- Start building routines early
- Work with them to set goals for their own behavior, chores, and academics
- Give them responsibilities consistent with their ages, abilities, and interests
- Reward, reward, reward – gold stars are great, but something they really love is better
Keep your eyes on the prize
Some may find it terrifying to give up even a little bit of parental power and learn that maybe the kids don’t need us. Don’t worry, that’s not going to happen. Just ask anyone who has a post-college child residing in their basement.
It’s more likely you will have to nag to get your kids to do what you want them to do for themselves by themselves. But the payoff will be tremendous for all involved.
Learn what you should expect and when
First, make sure your expectations are in line with what your child is capable of at each stage of development. It would be nice to have your kindergartner fold the laundry and your fifth grader plan the family meals, but there may actually be laws against that.
Teaching kids to be independent is not about putting them to work for you, although that’s a potential silver lining. It’s about getting them to dress themselves, or brush their teeth, or do something helpful for a sibling without being nagged. By themselves. Remember, baby steps.
Focus on age-appropriate things that will encourage autonomy. Start with something you habitually do for your child that you know you shouldn’t like picking up the toys because really, there’s no lesson learned by that.
It’s never too early for the color-coded schedule
Routine is extremely important for children, and you’ve been enforcing some sort of routine since their birth. Now it’s just a matter of delegating some responsibility for following a schedule to your child.
Keep a large, visible reminder of what needs to happen when. Start with big blocks of time for pre-school kids and narrow the focus as children get older and busier.
Once the kids understand what is next on their to-do list, teach them how to prepare for it with less help from you. And reinforce the idea that downtime is good, too – you’ll want them to understand when they need to amuse themselves. Which should be often.
Print a copy of the hockey schedule and let your little Ovechkin put the games and practices on the family calendar. Let the kids own the playdate planning and the Saturday schedule sometimes. Your schedule doesn’t need to be elaborate or even colorful, just functional for all.
Set goals, even if they’re itsy-bitsy
Even pre-school kids can be taught the value of goal setting, but perhaps by using different words. Kids’ emotional and intellectual growth is bolstered by learning to delay gratification. Introducing them to the idea that they need to do some type of “work” to get fulfillment is setting them up to succeed.
Sit down with your kids and talk about setting some age-appropriate, attainable but not-too-easy goals for their behavior, academics, extra-curriculars, and chores. Posting lists of goals is a great way to keep everyone accountable.
Tie goals to a problem your kid needs to solve and responsibilities that contribute to the family’s well-being and have meaning. Be sure to track the child’s progress in a happy, encouraging way.
Make added responsibilities an honor
Here’s something you probably already know but are too polite to say out loud: kids can be manipulated.
Try this the next time you need your kids to step up and do something: Make them believe only they are able to do it, and they will do it better than anyone else. You CHOSE them because of their unique qualities that will make them the best dog feeder, homework doer, or room tidier on the planet.
Make sure the added responsibilities you give children are consistent with their ages, abilities, and interests, and are meaningful. Make a big, highly visible list and refer to it until they eventually get the point and stop coming to you for ALL the answers.
Reward, reward, reward
Only people who don’t have kids would ever call it bribery. It’s positive reinforcement. It makes sense to start teaching it early in life because it can provide a foundation for positive habit forming.
Everyone needs to be acknowledged and praised. It’s a basic human condition. Rewarding positive behavior with something the child truly appreciates reinforces the idea that good actions cause desired results. Just be sure the rewards are healthy, moderate, and sustainable. You wouldn’t want to plateau before middle school.
And here’s another thing about positive recognition and visible rewards: they work by creating a peer-pressure effect. Pitting siblings against each other in a fun-spirited competition can give them the incentive to try harder to hit those goals and earn rewards.
Cool tools make all this work much easier
There is one thing that can help keep your kids on track and foster their independence: ORGANIZATION. That’s right. Instill some order, and the rest will happen like magic.
Of course, that’s not true – have you met kids? But with fun, creative tools and methods, you can win them over a lot easier. 1THRIVE can help.
We make command centers with interchangeable components that can organize family members of all ages. Our great-looking, functional, and easy to use support systems can help put your kids on the path to independence.