Independence is a trait that is celebrated by parents and teachers everywhere. Looking to adulthood, it’s also a trait coveted by employers. But why? What does raising independent children look like? And how can parents guide their children in ways that promote independence? Here are a few things to consider as you go about raising independent children.
Independence vs Confidence
It’s easy to confuse independence and confidence. A confident child might look like this …
While an independent one might look like this …
So a confident child believes they have worth and can achieve their goals. Independent ones feel empowered to make decisions on their own. If people have one trait, they often have the other.
But that’s not always the case. A very confident person can also be a very dependent one, requiring other people to do things for them. An independent person may have no problem making decisions and taking action, but they could also struggle with crippling self-doubt.
The beautiful part about these two traits is they often support each other — confident children tend to require more independence, and an independent child’s confidence will grow the more they succeed on their own.
Raising Independent Children
Here are three sure-fire ways to foster independence in your children.
- Let your kids make decisions.
Letting your children make decisions does two things that support independence. First, it shows you trust them enough to decide things on their own. Especially in toddlerhood and the pre-K years, kids may be very unsure of themselves. Letting them choose what they wear, what activity is next, or what’s for dinner will show them that they are capable of making decisions and that you believe in them. Second, letting your kids make choices sets the precedent that mom and dad aren’t the only ones who can call the shots. If a parent is always making the choices, their kids will begin to expect that mom and dad will take care of everything. And we all know that isn’t sustainable.
- Trust your kids to do “scary” things.
Dr. Leah Firestone says, “Parents are like a great platform from which our children can venture out and explore.” Essentially, it means Mom and Dad are the safety zone in life. Let your child venture out on their own, making their own decisions and trying out new things. “The trick is,” says Dr. Firestone, “the minute they feel frightened, anxious, or uncertain, they know they can come back to us for comfort.” Obviously, don’t drop off your 2-year-old at the grocery store with a $20 bill and ask them to do the shopping while you run errands. But if they say they are ready to spend the day at a friend’s house when they haven’t spent more than an hour away from you, let them try. Which leads us to …
- Establish that effort is more important than results.
Let’s say your pre-K kid is confident they can (and will!) spend an entire afternoon away from you on a playdate, even though they’ve never gone longer than an hour away from you. Sure enough, three hours into the playdate, the other child’s parent calls and says your kiddo is melting down and is ready to go home. Instead of saying the equivalent of, “I told you so,” when you pick them up, praise them for trying. In the end, the effort they put into trying something new is far more important than someone being right. Congratulate them for what they were able to accomplish, and tell them you are confident that they’ll reach their goal in no time. When a child knows it’s the effort they put into something that matters, they won’t let the potential of failure stand in their way of trying new things.
As your child grows, their ability to be more independent and think through their decisions will grow with them. Promoting independence, while offering guidance and support the entire time, will help them cope with the complicated — and sometimes difficult — decisions that they’ll face in school and in life. The hope is they’ll become adults who revel in their ability to make wise, independent choices.