“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.”Ann Landers
Do you remember that old Hutch ad with a cute pug dog? It said, “Wherever you go, our network follows”. This punchline explains the parenting style of a lot of us who do not let our children explore independently. There is nothing wrong with helping kids but too much of everything is bad. When we offer help without them asking or worse without a need; we are doing more damage than good.
Out of the many responsibilities of raising a child, the most important one is to help them grow into an independent adult. They will grow and earn voting right anyway, but whether they would become an independent and mature adult or a 25-year-old kid, depends largely on how their upbringing has been.
Here are a few tips to make your kids self-sufficient –
1. Stop doing everything for them
I remember sharing the feeding issues of my son with a colleague and she was quick to respond that she spoon-feeds her 8-year-old son even now so there is nothing to worry about if my 4-year-old is not able to eat independently.
Out of sheer love, we want to do everything for our kids starting from spoon-feeding to bathing them to making them dress to holding their hand while they get on a ride. It begins by simply offering help and then we keep helping. Eventually, they either expect us to help or don’t believe they can do it themselves.
2. Trust their competence
Habitually doing things for your children that they are capable of doing themselves sends an unintentional message that you don’t have confidence in their abilities. The outcome is a child who lacks independence, self-esteem, and problem-solving skills. This results in them not doing age-appropriate tasks. This is sometimes called “learned helplessness.”
Trust them, guide them and see them grow into an independent person.
3. Assign them responsibilities and household chores
There are a lot of studies to prove that the kids who participate in household chores grow up into a lot more successful and independent adults. Since everybody is living under the same roof and are making their share of messes, everyone should be responsible for keeping the home clean. It teaches them about valuable life skills such as hard work, responsibilities, respect for others, ownership, and many more.
Let them make their bed, put their books and toys at designated places, place utensils back in the sink, pack their school bag, etc.
“A dependent child is a demanding child. Children become irresponsible only when we fail to give them opportunities to take on responsibility.”Rudolf Dreikurs and Margaret Goldman
4. Teach them Life Skills
One day, your children will grow into adults. They would need basic life skills such as cooking skills, laundry skills, money managing skills, banking skills, and the ability to follow through.
Let them help you serve food and prepare fireless snacks; assign them a small monthly budget for ordering food (chips, ice cream, etc) from outside; let them choose clothes below the designated price range; let them help you with grocery shopping, etc. All of this will improve their decision-making skills and overall confidence.
5. Forget perfection
Understand and accept that they won’t do the task as perfectly as you but, that’s okay. Rome was not built in a single day either. Appreciate the effort and guide gently on how they can improve further.
If it takes the child 15 minutes to finish breakfast then start your morning 15 minutes earlier rather than pushing the child to gulp it down in 5 minutes. By ensuring these extra minutes at hand, you’ll be a calmer influence and will also teach the basics of time management and punctuality to your child.
6. Help them overcome the fear of failures
Let children know that failure is an essential part of learning and growing. Share your silly failure stories with them. This will help them understand that failures are the stepping stones to learning and success. This will also encourage kids to not give up when things get tough – “The most important survival skill” in the long run.
We all fail a zillion times in the real world out there. Not scoring as much as we wanted in the board exams, not being able to crack that dream college, not being able to perform well in an interview, being rejected by a loved one, having health issues, the list just goes on.
The kids need to be prepared for disappointment and poised to learn from it. To help kids overcome this when they’re independent adults, focus on the quality of their efforts and be their emotional strength rather than fixing it all for them.
“The results you achieve will be in the direct proportion to the effort you apply”.Denis Waitley
7. Promote problem-solving
The moment we see our kids struggle, it’s so hard to curb the parental instinct to jump in and fix it for them. However, we need to control this urge and guide them to solve it for themselves. If we want kids to think for themselves one day, we can’t provide them all the answers today. We should be there for suggestions and assistance but let them reach their own conclusions.
What we should offer, however, is a safety-net that allows kids to problem-solve in a controlled environment. With this structure and support in place, bad solutions won’t face serious consequences.
8. Praise genuinely
Kids respond to praise very well. You must appreciate their effort and desire to do something rather than being critical about the output. Of course, as they grow up, your expectations should be aligned correctly according to their age and skill set.
Don’t forget to praise when they demonstrate maturity, truthfulness, kindness and integrity. The more you know when to praise and what to praise, the more they will learn your expectations and will align their behavior accordingly.
As parents, it feels good when our kids need us. We love it when they turn to us for guidance, affection, even to get an orange or banana peeled off!
Don’t worry, your kids will always need you in one way or another.
However, we do have to remind ourselves that our long-term parenting goal is to guide our kids from being totally dependent on us into becoming independent thinkers and doers. And that’s no overnight task. Seeing your little ones struggle might make you restless but believe me, encouraging your kids’ independence is a gift that will keep on giving.
“We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future.”Franklin D. Roosevelt
Parenting any child in an uphill task but when you have a special needs child then that can increase your challenges manifolds. Please check out my book, When I Met The “Unexpected” – A Guide For All Parents to learn about various challenges that I faced and how I overcame a lot of them.
Learn, Accept, Intervene