How do you encourage a child to be more independent?
Providing a balance of structure and freedom for your child isn’t an easy task. As a parent, you know the dangers of the world, and want to shield your kid from them all. However, if your child doesn’t practice some independence, they may have trouble acquiring life skills that will benefit them later.
You may want to wrap your kid in bubble wrap and not let them out of sight. But you need to resist those impulses. Instead you need to think of ways to give your child a bit of freedom. If you don’t know where to start, here are six ways to encourage a child to be more independent
Alone time is important for a developing child. If your kid wants some time by themselves, let them go to their room and close the door. A safe, solitary space is a source of great comfort in many situations. Allow them space to process their thoughts and feelings.
If a situation or conflict arises that requires more active parenting, discuss the problem with them directly and clearly. But make sure to knock on the door before entering.
As children get older, they won’t want play dates instigated by their parents. They’ll want to hang out with their friends alone. Leaving your kid without supervision can be anxiety-inducing for first-time parents. However, you can take precautions that allow you to keep in touch with them, while they still get some independence. A cell phone for kids is a great tool to stay connected.
When your child asks for advice, telling them exactly what to do can be quick and easy. However, they won’t learn problem solving skills if you answer all their questions. It’s important that they come to their own conclusions. Of course, some problems are too big for kids to handle. But assess each issue as it arises to see if your child can solve it themselves.
With the right motivation your child will be able to formulate their own solution, and their confidence will grow. For example, if your child is having a social problem, ask for details. How does your child feel? Why does your child think the other kid acted that way? Then ask them what they want to do.
Essentially, you want to help them connect the dots for themselves. So use a discussion to draw out a solution from their perspective, and have them consider its effectiveness. This helps them see that you’re a helpful resource for them, while encouraging them to use their own reasoning skills.
It’s important to remember that children’s questions and exploration of their surroundings helps them develop their understanding of the world. It can get tiring when your child constantly asks “why,” but encouragement will reinforce their interest in learning. These moments have a profound impact on a person’s future engagement with school and the world.
In these situations, do your best to answer all of their questions, and be honest. If you can’t answer a question because you don’t know the answer, tell them that. This will show them that they’ll learn more as they get older, but that they won’t know everything. You can be a healthy example of imperfection, demonstrating that it’s okay if you don’t have all the answers.
If your child is old enough, have them look things up, even if you know the answer. You can help them check out a book from the library. Or turn on safe search on your computer so that they can google the information. Once they find the answer they’re looking for, you can discuss the information’s credibility.
4. Support Their Imagination
Sometimes, from an outside perspective, child’s play can be perceived as juvenile or immature. The truth is, imagination drives passion and problem solving. As long as your child’s imaginary play is safe, healthy, and appropriate, it’s generally beneficial for them. Don’t be afraid to play along—it’ll show them that you support their creativity.
These formative play sessions exemplify the inherent independent spirit in a child. Playing make-believe and creating stories helps your child solidify their understanding of the world, and eventually, critically examine it. The freedom of using their imagination allows for the development of important social skills. It will do them good if their play is validated by an authority figure.
As they get a bit older, continue to nurture that creative urge and imagination. Whether they like to journal or are interested in painting, let them build the skill set they’re interested in. Even as they pursue their academic studies, a creative outlet will enrich their lives.
There are many occasions when a child will look to you for validation after accomplishing something. Endeavor to react based on what they’ve worked on, rather than highlighting their innate abilities. For example, if your child aces a test, don’t simply praise their intelligence. Instead, acknowledge the effort they made to study.
Your child is not simply a list of good or bad actions. So when they misbehave, make sure you explain that the action was bad, not that they’re bad. You don’t want them to think that they are their behavior. You want to empower them to make changes and behave, and applaud them when they do.
Praise is important, but should be handled delicately. Complimenting a talent too much may decrease their motivation. Or it might send the message that your love is contingent on that skill. So positively reinforce the good behaviors that are within their control.
Remember that you were once a child, too—you made mistakes, threw your tantrums, and felt similar emotional highs. Reactions or feelings that seem unreasonable to you now are still consequential to a child. Understand that no matter what it is that’s causing them to feel a certain way, that feeling is real. Although the cause of a feeling is not always rational, these feelings exist regardless, and should be respected.
This also applies to a kid’s experiences and opinions. An opinion can be challenged, but it shouldn’t be mocked or taken lightly. Having their own feelings and opinions treated with respect will help them build confidence.
If you find your child’s opinion problematic, encourage an open discussion or research. Respecting their emotions, experiences, and opinions will help to build their independence by acknowledging their right to them.
As a kid grows, it can be hard to see them as anything other than your child who needs you. However, it’s important to recognize that by teaching them independence, you’re teaching them how to survive in the world. They’ll benefit from guidance that adapts to their changing needs. Using these tips will give them the courage to keep moving forward.