Parents often talk about giving their kids more autonomy and independence, and I don’t know if anyone else is like me, but when I think about giving my own children independence, then I have some pretty weird thoughts. I think of them wearing George Washington wigs and standing on top of the table with an American flag declaring their independence, but the thought is a fleeting one, and I often think seriously about how I’m going to help my kids take more control in their own lives.
I’m not looking to have them talk back to me or do their own thing all the time, but I also don’t want to be the kind of parent who hovers constantly to ensure that they are doing things the way I want them done. I want them to be able to think for themselves and do for themselves because I am trying to prepare them for later on in life when they will have to do most everything by themselves.
I want my kids to not feel like they need to call Mommy or Daddy whenever they have a problem or they encounter something new in their life. Yes, I’d like them to call us for advice, but they should be able to handle most problems on their own. In order for them to have the confidence to do that, they need to be doing some things on their own and realize that they can handle things by themselves sometimes.
The way to get them doing things on their own is to first teach them how to do it. It may sound counterintuitive, but in order to teach independence, you first have to start by showing them how to do things. Once they feel confident that they know how to do something, then they can start to do it without adult supervision. So, I teach them how to do the dishes, fold the clothes and clean the floors. After a few times doing this, they should know how to do it for themselves, and pretty soon they may do some of these things without being asked.
I know, that sounds unlikely for some parents, but if you set up expectations with their work, such as telling them that they can’t play video games until certain chores are done, you would be surprised at how much they do without being asked.
Now, it takes time to show children how to do new tasks. You have to be patient and realize that it will take them longer to do it than it takes you. It’s important to take the time to show them, though, and not rush things. They need to have plenty of time to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. Don’t be too harsh with them as they learn, and encourage and praise them when they do something well, no matter how small. All of this takes time, and you may not have time to do all the other things you have to get done and spend time working with your kids to teach them how to do some things.
What I have found that works are giving some of my chores to someone else- either to other people in the house or to a cleaning service or something like that. Ordering in and hiring services to take care of some of my cleaning or chores saves me time and allows me to spend more time working with my kids when I am trying to teach them something new. Personally, I’ve tried out Diamond Cleaning and it went great!
These kinds of changes to the schedule to save time are also great rewards for my kids when they are doing well. If they are learning what I am teaching them, then I like to show them that I appreciate their effort. So, I order pizza or do something that saves us time and that they like in order to give them a break from the norm.
Okay, so it’s important to lay that foundation to teach them how to do things on their own, but then the next step is even more important. From there, you have to let them do things for themselves, without watching over them to make sure they did it the right way. You can check back on them later after they have finished the task to see what they did. You can walk them through anything that they did wrong, but be sure to point out what they did right. The important thing is that you let them do it for themselves. Get them used to the idea that they can do things on their own, and they will be more likely to try new things and volunteer to do things for themselves.
I was urging my child to go down the street to the grocery on his own recently, and it took some work to get him used to the idea that he could cross the street all by himself. It’s a busy street, and I understand his hesitation to want to cross that on his own, but the right motivation prompted him to go without any hesitation. I gave him some money to buy a snack while he was there, and he was eager to go for himself. All it took was finding a reason that he would want to go beyond just doing things for himself. Now, he volunteers to go get me things at the grocery without me even asking. It’s a huge change in his behavior, and all it took was getting him to realize that he could safely do the job on his own.
You’ll have to have faith in your kids and trust them to do things the right way. They may not always do things the way you want them done, but that’s okay. It’s worth letting some things slide just to ensure that your kids are learning some independence and doing things for themselves. You’re instilling characteristics that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.