Teaching Kids Independence: How to Nurture Self-Reliance
How can you go about teaching kids independence and resilience? Here are our top-10 tips to nurture confidence.
It’s great to feel needed as a parent, and it’s lovely when our kids look at us like we’re superheroes. We’re the only ones who can reach the top shelf, we make the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and we make the tastiest hot chocolate. Our kids love it when we do these things for them, and we love it too because it makes us feel special. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we remember that our goal is to create independent little creatures who will grow up to be confident, resilient adults.
Teaching kids independence is no easy feat. It takes dedication, encouragement, and effort. It also requires us to take a step back every now and then, which could be the hardest part of all. For our kids to be truly independent, we need to give them the space to develop, to test boundaries, and to grow. They can’t do this with us micromanaging their every move.
Let’s explore why teaching kids independence is so important in the first place, along with the practical ways we can help our kids to develop their independence and confidence.
Kids have their entire adulthoods to be independent and self-reliant — what’s the rush?
This way of thinking is completely understandable, but the reality is that independence is just like any other skill. It needs to be learned early on, and it needs to be exercised so that, when they turn eighteen and venture out into the world, our offspring are not thrown in at the deep end. It’s the kids who don’t learn independence that come back from college every weekend with a hamper full of dirty clothes and hungry stomachs because they haven’t fed themselves properly in a week!
It’s also these kids that grow up to be uncertain about their potential, continually worrying that they will fail at anything they attempt or worrying they’ll disappoint someone. None of us want that for our children — above all, we want them to live life to the fullest, to be happy, and to thrive.
Below are our top-10 tips for teaching kids independence.
1. Give Your Kid Choices
One highly effective way to promote independence in kids is to give them the power of autonomy. Early on, ask them questions and give them choices. They should have a say in what they do and how they do it.
This isn’t to say that they’re the boss — you’re still the parent. But, as the parent, you can give them small decisions to make. This will not only promote independence, but it’ll also make them feel like they have an element of control and power over their lives, which will stop them from acting out.
Start with simple things — what would they like for breakfast? Oatmeal or toast? What do they want on their toast? What fruit do they want in their lunchbox? What pair of pajamas do they want to wear to bed? What do they want to listen to on their Jooki music player?
You can then extend this to chores — would they rather load the dishwasher or collect the laundry? You’ll be surprised at the difference such choices can make to their independence.
2. Give Your Kids Chores and Responsibilities
Independence will be hard for your kids to learn if you don’t give them responsibilities. The level of these responsibilities will vary depending on their age and ability, but it’s good to get them used to doing their part early on. The more they learn in these early years, the better they’ll be able to cope as adults.
You can start out easy — ask your kid to set the table for dinner or to load the dishwasher, and make sure they clean up all their toys after they’ve finished playing. As they get older, you can ask them to help you cook so they build those important skills, or you can ask them to do the laundry once in a while.
Kids still need time to be young and carefree, but they’ll be happy to acquire new skills and abilities, and the more they are able to do, the more they think they’ll be able to do. It’s a lovely cycle.
3. Encourage a Growth Mindset
It’s almost a reflex for us, as parents, to congratulate our children on their achievements or intelligence — and why wouldn’t it be? Do the following phrases sound familiar?
“Well done getting all As on your report card, you’re so smart!”
“You did a great job in the basketball game today, you were easily the best on the team.”
Your kids will love hearing these things, but did you know it’s just as important to praise efforts as it is to praise achievements? Carol Dweck's research into the “growth mindset” revealed that kids who were praised for how hard they tried and how much they persisted tended to be more confident and successful. When they came up against a problem or they failed a task, they didn’t break. They reassessed and they tried again — while those who were only ever praised on their achievements tended to shy away from trying again. In their minds, they had failed and they felt terrible about it, so there was no point in trying again, as they were afraid of failing again.
Try praising your kids on their efforts, regardless of whether or not they’re doing the task at hand perfectly. This will show them that there is real value in trying, which will encourage them to try even more things and to become more independent.
Part of becoming independent is learning from your mistakes. Kids need to learn how to overcome obstacles and succeed, and how to persevere through struggles and perceived failures.
It’s so easy to want to jump in and help our kids when we see them struggling, but in the long run, this won’t help their confidence levels or their independence.
Let’s say you’re watching your kid struggle with a puzzle. They’re getting frustrated or confused. It’s natural to want to help them, but take a step back and give your child the opportunity to solve the problem themselves. Let them come up with their own solutions. When they succeed, they’ll feel a real sense of accomplishment and achievement knowing they did it on their own — and they’ll carry that attitude with them throughout their lives.
5. Take the Time to Teach
Let’s be honest, it’s usually easier — not to mention quicker and cleaner — to do certain things ourselves rather than teaching our children how to do them. But if you’re wanting to encourage independent thinking and independent behavior, you need to take the time to teach.
Rather than spoon-feeding your toddler, teach them how to feed themselves. It’ll be messy, but they’ll love it, and it’ll help them develop their hand-eye coordination among other skills. When your child gets older, rather than filling their cereal bowl for them, show them how to do it, and then leave them to it. You might also encourage them to do the laundry or clean the living room — investing the time into teaching now will benefit them, and it’ll also save you time in the long run!
6. Give Them Praise and Recognition
Parental praise and recognition can mean the world to a child. They’re parent-pleasers at heart, and if they see that their independent behavior is getting praise, they’ll be encouraged to do the same in the future.
Reinforce independent behavior when you notice it — if you see them getting a start on their homework without being prompted, let them know you’re proud. If they unexpectedly clean up their room at the end of the day, give them a bit of praise. It’ll make all the difference.
7. Be Patient
Some kids might seem reluctant to try new things — this may well be because they don’t want to try anything until they’re certain they can do it right. There are two things parents can do to turn this behavior around:
Be patient. Rather than rushing them or pressuring them, let them take their time. They’ll do things when they feel comfortable.
Let your child know that they don’t need to do things perfectly. The important thing is that they try — nobody expects perfection, especially not the first time.
Children are nothing if they’re not inquisitive! Be sure to always feed this thirst for knowledge. Consider all their questions carefully, and give them real answers. You represent safety to them, but you also represent knowledge, which is why they naturally come to you. By asking questions, kids begin to explore, which means they’ll be more inclined to try new things, learn new things, and to experiment.
9. Don’t Criticize
As we mentioned earlier, kids are parent-pleasers. They want you to be proud of them. If they try something and they get criticism in return, they’ll feel bad about themselves, and they’ll learn that trying new things doesn’t pay off — and they won’t want to experience that again.
Constructive feedback is, of course, fine and helpful, but don’t tell your kid that they performed poorly or express disappointment or they’ll never try new things.
Life is so frustrating for kids — they know exactly what they want to do and how they want to do it, but they can’t always do it themselves. They may have a perfect vision in their head, but they can’t make it materialize. Most of all, they want to make their parents proud.
As adults, we realize that perfection doesn’t exist, but this is something that needs to be learned. Kids need to be taught that, even with practice, perfection very likely won’t ever exist. What matters is that they keep trying, it’s the effort that counts. Armed with this knowledge, kids will feel supported and as though they’re able to go out and make mistakes — and learn from them.
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