Raising Independent and Responsible Children

independentandresponsibleby Valerie Plowman

I have such a passion for helping children to be independent and personally responsible. I know that personally for me a huge part of my success as a person in my life can be attributed to the fact that I know I am responsible for myself. There are a lot of good reasons to be personally responsible–that isn’t the purpose of this post. The purpose is to discuss how you get there. Here are some ideas.

Start with Proper Expectations

The first place to start is to realize what your child is actually capable of. Chances are your child is capable of more than think. Whether you are working with chores, personal care, homework, practicing skills, or obedience, you want to have the proper expectations. Your child will rise to the occasion. You will likely often find yourself in the middle of a task you have always done realizing, “Hey, my kid could be doing this.” For everything you do for your child, the day will come that your child will be able to do it himself. That is the time to move on in our list of steps outlined below. An example from my life is last year when I realized Brayden, who was in second grade, could be making his own lunch in the morning. It was time to have him do it himself.

Explain and Teach

Just because your child is capable of something doesn’t mean he was born knowing how to do so. For whatever it is you want your child to be able to do, you will need to instruct. Have your child help you. Have your child observe. Talk through the process. Ask your child to explain the process. Let your child do it while you verbally instruct. Be patient with this process as it can take some time. Back to my lunch example, I decided that during the summer between second and third grade, I would have Brayden pack his lunch for park day to give him practice for packing it for school. I told him how, showed him how, and stood by his side as I handed the task over to him and helped him with questions that came up along the way.

Have Rules and Expectations

Once your child knows how to do something, it is time to set some rules and expectations. Explain when the task needs to be done. Explain if you will be giving reminders or not. Explain the consequences that will follow if the task is not done. Make sure your child is clear on these rules. Going with my lunch example, if Brayden doesn’t pack his lunch, he can eat the lunch the school provides.

You can have rules for the order things are done in–like maybe homework is done first thing after school. We have expectation that our children will clean up after themselves. We also have a rule that everyone cleans no matter who made the mess.

For help with appropriate chore expectations, see these posts:

Give an Instruction and Walk Away

A lot of times we impede our children’s progress by getting impatient and doing the task for our child. When you give your child an instruction, walk away so your child can do it. If you tell your child to get shoes on, walk away and do something else that needs to be done in order to leave. Don’t stand there for five seconds (or even five minutes) and then get impatient and start to do it for your child. A good strategy is to tell your child to do something much sooner than you need it done. Another good idea is to do something to busy yourself while your child works on it.

Always remember, doing things for your child might seem nice, but it can actually be harmful in the long run. It is such a benefit to your child to learn life skills and be able to take care of himself. I think it is fine to do some things for our children that they can do for themselves at times. My husband often helps Brayden with a portion of his lunch each day. There is nothing inherently wrong with making lunch for your child. It can be a display of love and service from you. Just be sure your child is learning the skills associated with the task you are doing in some other way (in our example, Brayden helps make dinner at other times).

Start by Helping with Charts/Cards/etc.

We all need reminders, and it is fun and helpful to give your child a way to keep track of what needs to be done. I find when starting a new responsibility, these things are necessary, but as the child gets use to it, it is no longer needed. When we started having Brayden make his own lunch, I made an instruction list he could refer to each day. Today, he doesn’t need to use it, but initially, it helped him make sure  he had everything he needed for his lunch. I have some posts on chore charts and such:

Have Consequences When The Child Doesn’t Follow Through

A concept I love from the Parenting with Love and Logic book is to keep in mind that stakes are low. This means that today, Brayden having to eat school lunch isn’t a huge deal. He might not like what is made that day, but he will surely survive. He will also likely not forget to make his lunch another day. He might be hungry, but life will go on. It is better to learn these lessons now while he is young and the consequences won’t have a long-term negative impact on his life than in 20 years when he is an adult and his stakes are higher.

Logical consequences are often effective for things your child is supposed to take care of himself. You can also remove privileges as a consequence. If you have a rule that there is no TV time until homework is done, if your child decides to watch TV first, you might take away TV time for a week.

Help Child Solve Own Problems

When your child comes to you with a problem that needs to be solved, don’t just solve it for him. Help him learn wisdom. Talk him through it. Ask him some ways he could fix it. Stay calm and help him think it through. Do a brainstorming session. Once you have talked about options, ask your child which option he wants to do. Doing this helps your child become self-sufficient. Your child will be able to do the process on his own before long.

Believe in Your Child

There is huge power in believing your child can do things. Have confidence in your child and trust your child to follow through.

For more on this topic, see:

Valerie is a mother to four children ages 1-8 and blogs at www.babywisemom.com.

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