As parents we all strive to assist our children to become independent. Educational psychologist,Tarryn Vieira, shares insights and tips to make this journey easier for parents.
One of the most important tasks of parenting is to teach children to become self-reliant and independent. Self-reliance is an essential life skill that gives us the confidence to trust in our ability, make decisions for ourselves, and do things on our own. For children, it is fundamental to success at school where they are expected to accomplish tasks on their own.
Children come into the world entirely dependent on their parents to meet their needs in order to survive. Yet by the time they are toddlers, they actively exercise their budding independence and want to try everything out for themselves. Having the freedom to do this and being supported in their attempts, is paramount to their emotional and social development and is the foundation of self-reliance and self-confidence.
Self-reliance develops when children recognize that they are separate from their parents and have the ability to affect the world around them. This process can become frustrating for both parent and child when parents become too protective, rescuing and over-involved in their children’s lives. We may often think that by doing difficult things for our children, we protect them from difficult or frustrating feelings. Instead we prevent them from exercising their independence and learning, practising, and mastering important skills needed in the real world. Rather than self-reliance, this encourages children to be dependent on others for how they feel about themselves.
How can we help our children grow in self-reliance and independence?
- Cultivate a relationship with your child that nurtures their need to be independent. Studies show that responsive and reliable parenting creates securely attached children who show more curiosity, self-reliance, and independence and who are able to develop the courage to explore the world with this relationship as a base of safety.
- Don’t be too quick to come to the rescue. It is important to work out when children need us to step in and help and when they are capable of figuring things out on their own. Children learn responsibility, independence and problem-solving skills when, for example, we don’t always rush back to school to bring them their forgotten sports kit. Instead why not help them to come up with a new plan?
- Guide your child rather than directing, deciding, or doing something for them. Think of this as being their ‘scaffolding’. Scaffolding doesn’t remain around a building – its purpose is to guide and support a building as it is constructed and until it can support itself.
- Let your child do what that they are capable of doing on their own. Introduce one task at a time, teach them first, watch them do it, and then step back. Examples include putting on their own shoes, giving them small chores to do, and allowing them to make appropriate decisions like what they want to wear. This provides them with opportunities to problem-solve and be resourceful.
It’s never too late to start – but the sooner the better as healthy habits are created during our children’s formative years.
Tarryn Vieira (Clinical Psychologist)