Fostering Independence and Responsibility
- Discover and affirm your child’s strengths. Not every child will be a great student, athlete or performer, but every child has qualities that make him or her special. Get to know and convey your appreciation of his or her unique style, especially when the strengths are not easily observed or universally applauded. “I notice that people like to spend time with you. You pay attention and are kind to them.”
- Help children develop passions and activities they can master. Find opportunities where children can put their gifts to use and gain competency in at least one arena. Allow them to explore and follow their interests and support them in developing a sense of mastery. Especially as children get older, recognition for accomplishments and the knowledge that they have real skills becomes increasingly important to self-esteem. Feeling a sense of competence in one area means your child will be better able to withstand difficulties in another.
- Avoid doing for children what they can do for themselves. Take the time to teach your children the skills they need so they can do tasks independently. As soon as they are physically able, show them how to put on a jacket, zip a zipper, tie their shoes, make their bed, set the table, help with the laundry, and cook a meal. It takes patience to teach children such important skills, but they need to be able to contribute to their family and also gain a sense of competence when they can dandle routine tasks.
- Allow children to make choices and decisions. So that children feel they have some control over their lives, parents should allow children opportunities to make age appropriate choices. At a very early age, a parent can ask, “Would you like to wear your blue sweater or your red jacket?” Or when a child is older, “Would you like to practice the piano before or after dinner?” Or, earn money by working a few days after school or on Saturdays.
- Allow children to make mistakes and experience the consequences. In rushing in to rescue their children, parents often rob them of an important learning opportunity. If we always protect our children from hurt or defeat, they will never learn to cope on their own. Even if your first impulse is to rush in and solve a problem, try to hold back. Help children understand that in making mistakes we often learn new things and that your love is not contingent on their success.
- Encourage children to solve their own problems. Avoid the temptation to offer a quick solution yourself or to give unasked advice. Whenever possible, let children handle problems, including squabbles with siblings, without your help. When intervention is necessary, help children to brainstorm possible solutions to a problem, evaluate options, and then decide which one they want to try.
- Analyze failure. Researchers who study resiliency maintain that it isn’t failure that is devastating to a child, but how she interprets it. When a child is able to think, “I failed the test because I didn’t pay attention,” rather than “I failed because I’m dumb,” she can figure out what she can do differently and better next time.
- Teach children caution, not fear. As children become older and acquire new and appropriate freedoms that move them away from the watchful eyes of parents, teach them to trust and obey their feelings if someone ever makes them uncomfortable and to ask for help whenever they need it. If, in a compromising or uncomfortable situation, and someone says, “Don’t yell!” they should yell. If someone says, “Don’t tell,” they should tell for safety reasons.
Find ways for children to make a meaningful contribution. Give children responsibilities around the house that seem reasonable for their age, ability, and personality. Encourage them to assume responsibilities in school and in the community. Help them be successful in completing what they start without taking over. Helping others gives children a chance to focus on more than their own needs and desires.