After an intense year of togetherness on everything, a guide to how to start building back independence in small but meaningful ways.
📺 TL;DR video
In the past 13 months, many of us have gotten very used to having our kids around, and they've gotten used to us being there for just about everything. As more kids return to school or extra-curricular activities, and as the possibilities for families expand, it's a good time to pay attention to independence and how to build or re-build it with our children.
🤓 Independence 101:
Notice what you are doing for your kid: Independence experts encourage us not to do things for our kids that they can do for themselves, and this difficult process starts with simply paying attention to when we swoop in, what for, and when it seems necessary or not.
Update expectations: Some of our kids have been literally "suspended" in their childhood in some ways, but they have all grown and aged. Remember how old your child is now, a year into the pandemic, but also remember that they have been handicapped (mostly temporarily) by their situation and may need to relearn some skills.
Move from the "comfort zone" to the "growth zone": When kids can do everything for themselves, no learning takes place. Look for challenges that are just slightly beyond what they can do now (the "growth zone") to slowly build upon.
Practice problem-solving: Rather than offering solutions ("do you need a bandaid?!"), ask your kids what they think should be done using "How" questions ("how do you want to deal with your cut?"). If their ideas are not perfect ones, let them try them out anyway or teach them about what else they need to consider. As kids get older, try to be more of a "consultant" than a "fixer."
Give responsibilities and opportunities for decision-making: Build-in frequent ways for kids to take reasonable control and make their own choices. Give them age-appropriate chores, a regular allowance, and regular times when kids get a say (choices in menu-planning, etc).
✨ Your Options
Model - Practice - Remind: Remember that people don't learn new skills overnight. If you want your child to, say, get themselves ready for school, you will need to model for them what that exactly looks like, practice it with them many times, and remind them using visuals, which are always better than words. In this instance, take pictures of your child doing each step and post them in order on their bedroom door, or put a photo of them ready for school, with everything they need, on the back door to check before they head out.
Set independence goals: Sit down with your child and help them set a goal for something they want to learn to do on their own (you can use this Independence Kit if you like). Maybe it's going somewhere without an adult, making something in the kitchen, or mastering something that's a little dangerous. Listen to their ideas and help them find something manageable but challenging. Talk about what small steps they will take to reach their goal, and what good feelings or privileges will go along with their achievements.
Offer an Allowance: Giving a child a reliable allowance is a great way to teach them how to make responsible decisions and to rely less on you. Decide on a set amount and whether it will be tied to chores or "no-strings attached." Don't meddle in their choices - let them learn from their mistakes and model for them how to make wise decisions for money. You can also have them divide their money into three groups; money to spend, money to save (you can even add interest), and money to give away.