Independence is one of the core values that your child needs to learn in order to do well in life. As a parent, you may find it hard not to come to your child’s rescue when they struggle or are unwilling to accomplish tasks at home or in school. But the thing is, imbuing self-sufficiency in your child will equip them with the wisdom and maturity they need when it’s time to navigate the unfamiliar terrains of adulthood.
That said, parents actually start teaching independence to children early on, albeit in small ways. Parental scaffolding is a concept in which an adult guides a child in goal-oriented tasks by withdrawing or offering support in line with the child’s learning needs and developmental level. When parents practice their scaffolding in a healthy manner, they can encourage their kids to be more independent. However, parents who are misguided in their scaffolding could raise contingent or overly dependent children. Such children tend to be poor decision-makers and rely too much on positive reinforcement.
Still, it’s possible to train an overly reliant child to be more independent, which will be useful when, in the future, they need to study somewhere far from home. With that in mind, here are some tips to help you raise your child to have a healthy level of self-reliance and a strong sense of responsibility.
Be Clear in Your Expectations
Children often perform tasks to satisfy a parent’s expectations. When teaching your child to be more independent, make sure to establish reasonable expectations such as getting dressed for school within 15 minutes and putting dishes in the sink after eating. Encouraging your child to work on meeting these expectations will help them develop sound habits, which will be beneficial when they have to be somewhere without your constant supervision. Consider starting your sentences with “I expect you to…” to communicate goals clearly to your child.
If your child needs to study in another city or even overseas, you may want to eventually stretch out your expectations based on long-term goals. For example, if they’re going to study in a Singapore international boarding school, you should work with your child on a set of objectives they must meet within a week, month, or before they get back home. Some of these expectations may include riding the MRT or local bus by themselves, keeping their dorm room clean, or getting a better grade in a subject they struggle with.
Help Them Establish Routines
Most children learn independence through a set of routines. Ideally, you should create these routines with your child to give them an active role in planning their everyday activities. Your child’s school routine, for example, may involve getting dressed, eating breakfast, packing their things, preparing their lunch. These regular activities will help them feel less stressed in getting ready and encourage them to take initiative when you’re not around.
On a related note, your child’s everyday routine may involve taking certain vitamins and medicines. As such, it’s important to let your child know about conditions such as allergies that they may have and how to best approach them. Doing so will help your child make the right choices in case of emergency situations, such as an accidental consumption of peanuts during a party.
Assign Appropriate Chores
Assigning chores to your child teaches them to be responsible and mindful of others. To prepare your child for independence, you may want to charge them with age-appropriate tasks, such as helping put away groceries, watering the plants, bringing dirty clothes to the laundry room, or maybe even doing their own laundry. Allowing your child to actively take care of the house empowers them to manage their own spaces and prevents them from feeling helpless when away from you.
Moreover, it may be a good idea to assign tasks that involve taking care of others. For instance, you can ask your child to feed the family dog or watch over a younger sibling. Having responsibility over another living being teaches your child to be careful with their actions and be more empathic towards others.
Give Them Some Space
All children need space to become truly independent. With this, you may want to encourage your child to perform more tasks without your supervision. For one, you can allow them to take bike rides around the park, get the mail, order lunch, or go through the grocery aisles by themselves. Make it a point to assign at least one task to your child that they need to do without your guidance.
Of course, you should also remind them to stay safe when doing things on their own. Make sure to inculcate the basics such as not talking to strangers or looking sideways before crossing the street.
Don’t Over-Correct, Beg, or Nag
It may be tempting to correct every mistake your child makes, but constantly hovering about will only drive your child to be more dependent on you. Instead of nagging, remind your child once and let them attempt to do the task (i.e., making their bed). The accomplished task doesn’t have to be perfect—the most important thing is that they tried. That said, you need to be extra patient and work with your child until they properly do what is expected of them.
Improve Their Decision-Making through Limited Choices
One core aspect of instilling independence in your child is building their capacity to solve problems and make decisions. To help your child become a better decision-maker, you may want to give them choices with certain limits. Children can get overwhelmed with choices, but limiting their options can help them properly discern the best courses of action. You can start by getting them to decide between meal options, downtime activities, study times, and clothes to wear.
Another important thing to remember is that children must learn how to solve conflicts on their own. Whether their problems involve classmates, friends, or schoolwork, your child must exhibit critical thinking to determine the right decisions. And as your child’s parent and guide, you must be their source of support and empathy. You can help your child brainstorm solutions by offering different perspectives on the situation and identifying ways to prevent future occurrences.
Raise Your Child to Be Better-Equipped for Life
When all is said and done, teaching your child to be an independent individual is one of the best things you can do for them. There are things in life that they need to learn on their own, and there will come a time when you won’t be there to direct them. Teaching your child self-sufficiency will not necessarily make them prepared for absolutely anything, but it will help them be capable enough to handle things on their own and know when to ask for help.