Ever wondered how to raise independent children? Noël Janis-Norton believes that we should stop tying their shoelaces and encourage them to do things for themselves.
Self-reliance is the ability to deal successfully with everyday situations, whether these situations are familiar or new. This is one of the main building blocks of a child’s confidence and self-esteem.
Confidence is all about knowing you can handle challenges. It is the attitude of ‘I can do it!’ or ‘I’ve never done this before, but I’ll give it a try!’
Why you should raise independent children
When our children do more and more for themselves and for others, and when they contribute to the household, we don’t need to work as much. We don’t have to constantly feed, clean, cook, get children dressed and entertain them. We don’t need to remember their PE kit, their lunch box and violin. We will have more time to do the things we enjoy doing, either with our children or on our own.
Our relationships with them become calmer, easier and happier. We won’t need to give so many instructions, and we won’t be tempted to remind, nag and complain about what our children do or don’t do. Children resent being nagged and criticised by parents and teachers, and it does not help them to improve.
As a result of teaching our children to do things on their own, we will have many opportunities to Descriptively Praise and to show how proud we are, rather than to criticise or complain. The atmosphere at home will become much more positive.
A child who can complete routine tasks by themselves develops the confidence to tackle challenges at home, at school and in other places. Their reasoning and communication skills will be better developed because their parents are not doing the thinking or talking for them. Their organisational skills will be better because they have learned to take care of their own belongings. They will be more confident, and also more able.
Typical obstacles and how to overcome them
As parents we perform most tasks faster than our children do. Sometimes we just don’t have the patience to wait for a child to do things inefficiently or slowly, such as putting on a coat or tying shoelaces, especially if they are resisting or misbehaving.
We want to get it done quickly so we can move on to the next task. We also know that we can do a much better job than our children on most tasks. In the short term, it is easier for us to keep doing it than to teach our children to do it.
But if you keep on doing things for your children, they will not get enough opportunity to improve.
Loving your children and doing things for them is not the same thing. It is not your job to do things for your children that they can do for themselves. Your job is to transmit to your children the skills and values and habits that you believe are important.
“Children who have too much done for them come to expect to be served, and they take it for granted”.
Rather than appreciating what you do for them, they value you less and less.
They may even resent you for not giving them enough opportunities to do things on their own. And if you act like an unpaid servant, you may be treated like one – with disrespect.
Start by allowing more time for everyday tasks, such as getting ready for school in the morning, that way you are less likely to get impatient or stressed and end up doing it for your child. Gradually children will become more skilled, and gradually their speed will improve as well. Over time you can require children to do their tasks to a much higher standard than many parents realise.
SEE ALSO: Why Kids Should Do Chores
An easy way to foster self-reliance and raise independent children
A large measure of self-reliance follows naturally from cooperation. When children are in the habit of doing what they are told, and when we tell them to do the same thing at approximately the same time on most days (because we have a routine), after a while they start to follow the routine even before we give them the instruction.
For example, if you always insist that they wash their hands properly before a meal, quite soon all you will have to say is “Dinner time”, and they will go and wash their hands.
As with teaching anything new to a child, I always advise following the steps that I describe further in my article on Preparing For Success:
- Be realistic about what you expect your child to be able to learn. If you are not sure what they are capable of, just teach one more step on from what he or she can do right now. It is much better to proceed gradually and to experience success, rather than to do too much too quickly and end up discouraged.
- Make enough time for teaching. Choose a time when you are not in a rush. Be willing to go very slowly.
- Remember that you have to be physically present to teach. Telling your child what you want him or her to do and walking away rarely works.
- Slowly and patiently, demonstrate what you want them to do and consider breaking the task you want to teach into small, achievable steps (micro-skills).
- Ask them to repeat what you have just shown them.
- Review your child’s effort, and explain what improvements you want.
- Descriptively Praise a lot: for not giving up, for being patient, for being willing to practise and learn, for mastering a tiny micro-skill.
- If your child is still not learning the skill, think of other ways to teach it. Different people learn differently. You can ask them what will make it easier for them to learn the skill. Sometimes children have good ideas about how they learn best.
- Once your child has shown that they can perform the task independently, ask them to practise it again a few more times with you supervising.
- Use everyday situations as opportunities for teaching.
For example, to teach a child to zip up their coat, button a shirt or tie shoelaces, you can put the coat, shirt or shoe on the table so they can see what they are doing more easily. Have them walk through the steps one by one. You might want to start a task and let them finish it. When your child is confident, which might take a few days, have them do the same thing while wearing the clothes.
SEE ALSO: Why Rules & Routines Matter
You can teach many social skills by using rehearsals, taking turns playing each part. Have your child try greeting someone when they are introduced, asking for assistance in a shop, ordering a meal or answering the telephone. This can be great fun
- Explain clearly that from now on you want them to remember to do this job.
- Don’t give in to the temptation, when you’re in a hurry, to do it for them or to keep reminding them.
- Create rules and routines, rewards and consequences to help them remember what they need to do and to be motivated to do it.
- Require children to do their best. You need to stay around for a while and supervise and check.
- Don’t rescue your child from the consequences of their actions. It is not your job to make everything OK for them.
- If your child can carry out a task but is still very slow, you can help them to speed up by using a timer and getting them to try and break their own record. Most children love competing against themselves, and the improvement is often dramatic.
Make it easier for your child to get organised by having them prepare for the next day as part of the evening routine. If they still forget their homework or PE kit, let them deal with the consequences. They will be much more motivated to learn this way.
Having an independent child does not mean that you can never again do things for them. When their independence is established, you can sometimes do things for them as a treat. They can also do things for you on occasion! You will both appreciate each other much more when you have a choice about what you do for each other.Noël Janis-Norton is a learning and behaviour specialist with over 45 years’ experience in Britain and the United States as a head teacher, special needs advisor, consultant, lecturer, parenting coach, speaker and author. She is the founder of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, resources that can help you and your family, from books and CDs to parenting courses, workshops, fortnightly talks and private consultations (at the Centre or by telephone).
Her new book, Calmer, Easier, Happier Boys is out now. Read more of her Calmer Easier Happier series for Mr Fox.