One of your most important goals as a parent is to raise children who become independent and self-reliant. However, it's easier said than done; after becoming parents we tend to be overprotective which make it even harder for the children to learn to be independent. Here are 7 tips you can apply in your daily parenting that would help nurture your child's early independence.
1. Let them learn about their emotion on their own.
We are biologically programmed to empathize with our children. When they cry, we run to see if they are in danger; when they look sad, we wrap our arms around them. We want to protect our kids from all negative feelings, but struggle and suffering are part of life and children need to learn to manage their own emotions. As a child, you don't know exactly what you feel when you're with your parents because you interpret your experiences through their reactions. Away from home, it's easier for children to learn what they hate and what they love, what makes them miserable and what makes them happy, because they are having experiences on their own. Send them to nursery school or summer camp to let them experience other relationships and emotions without you being there to comfort them, will help their mental development.
2. Self-esteem can be learnt from achievement, not by compliments.
After promoting self-esteem for two decades, we are seeing more depression and anxiety in young people, not higher levels of self-confidence. It turns out that telling kids they are great all the time doesn't help them that much; instead, it makes them suspicious of adults because they can see that they're not as good at doing some things as other kids are. Self-esteem comes from building skills and mastering challenging tasks on their own. Your child's greatest sense of achievement may come from succeeding in a situation where he had tasted defeat, had been really upset, and then had come back triumphant. So next time your child cries because they failed, don't just say they are very good and deserve it better than the winner, tell them to try harder next time to be the winner.
3. Let them be in charge of their own friendships.
Although we can arrange play dates, kids teach each other how to be friends. I would argue that the best friendships are the ones a child makes on her own with someone she's met at school or in an after-school activities. "Mom, I made a new friend," is one of the signature shouts of a child's independence. You can support your child's friendships, give the kids a place to hang out, and order the pizza, but you can't control her relationships.
4. Remember we are their parents, not their coach.
When you and your child share a natural gift – sports, music, or math – it may seem logical to play coach. Managing the junior football team is one thing, but few parents can guide their child's career to a higher level without damaging their relationship. Parents already have so much power in their children's lives, to add the role of a coach tips the balance, in a way that puts a child's mental health at risk. I read about a boy who quit the varsity basketball team in his senior year just to punish his basketball-mad mother. "That's all she cares about in my life," the boy said. Wise parents would turn the job of coaching over to someone else they trust.
5. Children do what we do, not what we say.
I have heard and read of parents discussing all the time about how they can limit their child's use of electronic devices. However, everyone is spending equal amounts of time in front of screens – and children will do what we do, not what we say. So next time you get mad at your child's behavior, take a deep breath and try to think whether you or your partner have been a good example or not. Sometimes, children don't copy what we do but relate with what we do, for example, if you have a short temper and get mad at tiny things, your little one might think that throwing a tantrum would get them what they want.
6. You can't keep your children completely safe, but you can drive them crazy trying.
We watch the news and worry about all the terrible things that can happen to our kids. One mother of three children, ages 11, 8, and 7, told me that they live only three streets from school. "I know I should let my kids walk, but I just can't," she said. Forty years ago, 41 percent of children walked to school; now only 13 percent do. Kids have also lost ten to 12 hours of free play per week. Many aren't allowed to roam in the woods or even play in their own backyard; instead, they sit indoors near their parents, watching TV or using the computer. Parents are trying to do a good job of raising their children, but our constant focus on safety is making us anxious and suffocating our kids' capacity for independence. The human body and mind are designed to keep us away from hurt, therefore a few scratches from playing outdoors, hurts less than what your child would learn.
7. We can't tell our children to be independent but we can let them be.
A high-school swimming coach told me that her year 9 pupils show up at meets without their goggles and say, "My mom must not have put them in my gym bag." When 15-year-olds can't remember their goggles, is it because they are disorganised or because their mother is doing their remembering for them? Every child needs to practice being independent, and every parent needs to practice letting her child be independent. Independence is like roller skating: You have to practice and sometimes fail, and then stand up and keep going till you get the hang of it. As a parent, you'll wince when your kids hit that bar, but you can't skate for them.
Ultimately, to learn and grow, your children will have a lot of sweet moments without you there to see them. But if you believe that your job is to raise your children so they will be ready to leave you, you need to be able to let them go and watch from a distance.
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