Welcome to another Motherhood Monday – so good to have you with us today. Today’s post is dropping on July 4th and I couldn’t help myself so today we’re talking about raising independent children. So if you find any part of this blog post helpful, I would just love it if you’d leave a comment below, and share it with a friend. As always, I truly thank you for the honor of your time.
There are so many reasons why we want to raise independent kids. One is that autonomy is such a critical part of childhood. Our kids need to be given the opportunity to develop a sense of self. To get to know who they are. What do they think? What do they like? How do they express themselves? What can they do? What are they good at? How do their decisions affect others? What kind of authority do they have as a human being – like making their own choices, being toilet trained, showing their sense of style – that’s all part of their autonomy and giving them some independence is the only way they can start to explore their sense of self. It’s letting them know they have control over themselves and the choices they make.
Learning how to be independent is a critical skill for kids to develop, as it teaches them how to conduct themselves later in life as they take on greater responsibilities. But as moms, we don’t have to wait until later in life to experience some of this payoff. Confident, capable kids will do things that will take stuff off your plate! Imagine your kids picking up after themselves, getting their own snacks, taking out the trash, washing their own laundry, doing their own dishes – yes! And it’s not just doing stuff to make your life easier, it’s doing stuff because they’re part of a community where everyone contributes, where everyone chips in. But they can’t participate unless they’re given some level of independence to learn to do these tasks.
But I think sometimes as parents, and I see this often in my clients, that first, we’re wanting them to stay little and grow more independent all at the same time, right? We can feel them and their littleness slipping away and we want desperately to preserve it. But we’re not doing them any favors by coddling or enabling them because we are trying to raise future adults who have the skills to function in and contribute to society.
The process of them learning to be independent in different areas requires so much time and so much patience from us. But continuing to do things for our kids that they can do for themselves because it’s faster and we’re always in a rush, or because it’s cleaner and we can’t stand the mess, or whatever reason – it sends a message to our kids that they’re incapable. Or that we don’t trust them. This discourages independence. It lowers self-esteem and problem-solving skills. AND – our kids can develop a learned helplessness. So here are 3 ways we can start raising independent kids.
- Give them chores
All the yes and all the amen to this one. Get those kiddos helping out around the house! No matter what age your kids are, you can find age-appropriate chores for them to do. You would be amazed at the things your kids are capable of doing to help. If you’re not sure what they’re capable of, first you can just google age-appropriate chores and you’ll get tons of lists with ideas for every age – even your really little kids. As soon as they’re mobile, they can start helping in small ways. Second, I’d encourage you to challenge your kids a bit here. Teach them to do something that might be just beyond what you think they’re capable of and be patient, adjust your expectations for how “perfectly” they’re going to do it, and you’re going to be shocked by how capable your kids actually are.
We want to try to give them things to do that are actually helpful. You’re going to find that your kids are much more likely to enthusiastically participate, when they feel like they’re actually helping. So you’ll probably get more buy-in from them to do things like putting the groceries away or folding the laundry, then you will just give them menial tasks to just keep them busy and out of your hair.
One of my four year old’s favorite chores is cleaning the bathroom. It’s crazy when I think about it. But she’ll clear off the vanity top, she knows how to spray the glass cleaner, and she’ll grab a cloth and use her little step stool and I watch her climb up on the counter and she wipes down the mirrors, counter, and sinks. And she cleans the toilet guys – it’s crazy. She uses a little toilet cleaning scrubber brush things and she cleans the toilet bowl – she loves doing it. It’s wild. And then she’ll wipe down the outside of the toilet and that’s pretty much the extent of what she can do, and she’s so proud of herself. And is she amazing and incredible and all the things – yes, of course she is. But is she different from any other four year old, no! Like if this is shocking to you, I’d encourage you to let your kids try some stuff that you don’t think they’re capable of. Watch – wherever you set the bar, is where your kids will rise to. So set it a little higher and watch them rise to meet it.
And are the mirrors completely streak free, no. Is all the toothpaste cleaned off the sinks? Probably not. Does the shower and floor also need a scrub, yes. But she’s helping. And when I go in to finish it, it only takes me a few minutes. But that’s not really the point, right? The point is that she’s learning. And she’s growing in confidence. And she feels like she’s an important part of our family. And these are life skills that she’ll get better at that will only grow her independence later on.
- Let them do stuff themselves
Give them the freedom to do things for themselves, on their own! Safely give them some responsibility that might be a little uncomfortable for you. We can’t bubble wrap these kids and we want them to believe we trust in their capabilities. We went to the mall this weekend and there’s this really long, high escalator and my kids were all about it. And I rode it up and down with them once and then they wanted to do it again, and I encouraged them to go without me. This is a 4 and 5 year old in a busy mall in Miami. I had my eye on them every second, and they were safe, but it was something they could do by themselves independently. And they were so dang proud. They were waving to people and saying excuse me and quietly standing on the right side so people could walk around them if needed and it’s an escalator ride, but they crushed themselves. And they got to the top and they turned the corner and came right back down, and it was such a good opportunity for them to safely do something they perceived as a big deal, by themselves. So I’d just encourage you to find your own opportunities like this with your kids. Can your kid go to the mailbox and get the mail by himself? Can your daughter crack eggs while you’re making breakfast? Can your 10 year old go to the other side of the grocery store by themselves to grab a loaf of bread? You decide what’s safe for them, but really think about whether they’re safe and maybe push yourself a little bit past your comfort zone in letting them do things by themselves.
And this is kinda one-off stuff, but also just in their day-to-day routine. Do your kids dress themselves? Do they pack their own lunch (or help you)? Do they pack their own backpacks? Do they put their shoes on? This independence teaches them so much about responsibility, right? And time management. And yes, it may take longer for them to do these things alone than it would take if you just did it for them, but make the investment friends. And plan for it. If your daughter is going to do her own hair, get her going 10 minutes earlier so this doesn’t become something stressful where you’re racing against the clock!
And I get the struggle – it’s not easy to watch our kids fiddle with something that would take us 2 seconds to do. It can be super annoying – totally get it. But resist the urge to just jump in and do it for them because it’ll be faster. Let them buckle themselves in. Let them feed the dogs. Let them vacuum the living room, even if you have to leave the room because the way they’re doing it is driving you nuts! They’re not going to do it as well as you do, or the same way, and you gotta be ok or get ok with that. It’s part of the process. So if you have to leave the room so that you’re not micromanaging or criticizing them – do it! Because no one wants to be criticized when they’re learning something new, right? So do what you need to give them that space to learn. Because they’re not going to get better, or become more independent, without the opportunities to be independent.
So I’d encourage you to take a little inventory – what are the things each day that your kids could probably be doing themselves? Getting dressed, brushing their hair or teeth, making meals or snacks, chores you’re doing – be mindful of what they could be doing on their own and then empower them to do it!
- Allow them to work out their own disagreements
This one’s so good! I can’t tell you how often I have to resist the urge to step in when I hear my kids getting at it so they can start exploring how they resolve conflict on their own. Sometimes, I’ll literally get to their bedroom door and then catch myself and just stand outside it and give them a few moments to try to work some stuff out themselves before I jump in. This isn’t permissive parenting and yes we have to teach them skills to use in resolving their conflicts, but we also need to give them space to practice what we’re teaching them! But we know we can’t always be there, so this is about giving them space in a safe environment to work through conflict themselves. And when I am eavesdropping on their conflicts, it’s also a great opportunity for me to hear and learn where they’re struggling or misstepping in their conflict resolution, so I can address it specifically.
And often, they’re actually figuring out a resolution on their own and they don’t need me, but when they do, they’re really good at coming to find me. And they know by now that I’m not going to let them come to me with all their tattletales or complaining, so my 5 year old now will come find me mid-conflict and she’ll ask, “Mom can you help me brainstorm what to do with Ashton right now? She’s making me so mad!!” And then we can work together, and this is still an act of supporting her in her independence, to come up with ideas for how she can go back in with her sister, and try to resolve whatever the conflict is.