When it comes to gaining independence, children will go through different stages as the days go by. Newborns and infants, for example, need us for pretty much everything. Toddlers and preschoolers tend to think they are independent (“Me do it”) but, in reality will need our guidance and assistance often. Teaching kids to be self-sufficient is a big but very important step in development.
As your children enter school, they become more self-governing and this self-sufficiency will continue to increase with the passing weeks and years.
But how self-sufficient should your kids be? How much should they be doing themselves? And how much should they still be relying on us?
This depends on so many factors including your child’s individual ability and temperament and your personal parenting style. But, no matter where your child is, developmentally speaking, or what kind of parent you are, it’s important to encourage self-sufficiency into their routine.
Why Let Them Try?
Self-sufficiency is a learned skill and one that we need to nurture from a young age. Sure, we can do everything for our kids, but this isn’t good for anyone.
First of all, it’s absolutely exhausting. Take it from someone who’s been her children’s personal chef/maid/chauffeur/hairdresser/toy picker-upper for nine long years. The constant demands can start to drag you down, burn you out, and turn you into an exhausted mum zombie who survives purely on coffee and chocolate.
Secondly, it’s no good for your kids either. It can lead to laziness and, worst still, a sense of entitlement. They come to expect this same treatment from everyone – teachers, peers, co-workers, and partners.
Giving kids a chance to try teaches them responsibility, boosts their confidence and prepares them for the future. But, most importantly, it gives them a sense of pride that yes, they have the ability to do it themselves.
Your kids aren’t going to become independent overnight. But there are ways to help them learn to be a little more self-sufficient and gain a bit more responsibility without putting too much pressure on them.
1. Add to their workload (gently)
The easiest way to do this is to give them age-appropriate chores. But before you dump a list of chores on their tables, teach them how to do it, even if the task seems simple to you, like making the bed or setting the table. Offering support, praise and guidance, when needed, can make them want to help out.
2. Explain WHY they need to help
Telling a child to do something doesn’t always work. Kids often need a reason WHY (“because I said so,” often isn’t good enough). But if you explain to them WHY they need to help out and take responsibility, you have a better chance of getting a good reaction. And without having to constantly nag at them.
For example, try:
• Can you set the table? Because I’m busy making dinner and would love the help.
• Can you pick up your socks? Because it’s rude to leave your dirty clothes on the floor.
• Can you wipe the toilet seat? Because you’re the one who peed on it.
3. Help them find their way
The path to self-sufficiency is usually riddled with bumps and opportunities for kids to give up and mums to take over. Take the fine art of learning to tie shoes. I cannot tell you how many times my daughter has tried to learn this, gotten frustrated and given up. And how many times we’ve been late for school and I’ve just done it for her.
Don’t let them give up. Avoid the urge to take over. Instead, you assist them, supervise them or guide them. They may be slow, or sloppy, or make mistakes. Or they may do it differently than you. But this is all part of their journey towards independence.
4. Give them the tools to solve problems
The main tool children need to solve any problem? The assurance that they have the capability to do it, to think for themselves, to brainstorm a solution and to put this solution into play. For example, your child may have lost his shoes. Rather than run around the house like a mad woman searching for them, ask him to think about where he left them last, to backtrack his steps, to use his knowledge to find them.
5. Control less, enjoy more
One of the hardest things about teaching your kids to be self-sufficient is that it may feel like you’re losing control, like they no longer need you anymore.
But here’s the thing: No matter how old they are, you are always their parent. And your kids will always need you. You will be the one they turn to when they need a cuddle or a confidence booster, when they need homework help or relationship advice. This won’t change, even if you’re no longer doing their laundry or making their bed for them. It simply means you’ve given them the tools they need to become confident, self-reliant individuals.
When it comes to being there for emotional support, don’t take a step back. Be front and centre, always. But when it comes to picking up their dirty underwear from the floor, it’s okay to step back.
The bottom line
Watching your kids become self-sufficient is a rewarding experience. It means you will spend less time picking up after them and more time enjoying time together. It means you can share the workload, reduce the stress and put your feet up every once in a while.
But, most importantly, it means you’re giving them the confidence to tackle new challenges and the tools to grow into independent individuals. Watching their eyes light up with pride when they set the table correctly or cook their first family dinner or tie their own shoe laces is such an amazing feeling. Especially when you can enjoy the moment from the comfort of your couch.