One moment you’re holding your tiny newborn in your arms and the next you’re driving him to college.
Time goes by quickly during parenthood. Over the course of a few years, our kids go from being completely dependent on us to living on their own.
It leaves us, as parents, wondering: will they be ready to venture into the world without us?
Every year, hundreds of teens leave home unprepared for living on their own. While this may mean they don’t know how to do their own laundry, it also means they don’t know how to problem-solve, handle failure, and generally act like a responsible adult.
For some teens, it’s just a matter of maturity. They’re simply not developmentally ready to jump into independent living.
For others, it’s more a matter of preparation. They’ve never had the chance to exercise the skills needed to be independent.
Over the years, adults have taken care of them – managed their schedule, cleaned their room, done their laundry…the list goes on.
One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to ensure they’re self-sufficient when they leave home. Some kids will arrive at self-sufficiency on their own, but most need a little extra help to make their way. Similar to other skills (such as reading or math), the majority of kids need coaching and practice to achieve independence.
It’s never too early to start coaching your kids towards self-sufficiency. In fact, the earlier you start the better! Keep in mind that many of the life skills that adults take for granted can take years for kids to learn.
If you’ve ever worried about your child being ready to go out into the world on their own, you aren’t alone! Here are six things you can do for fostering independence in your kids starting right now:
1: Learn How to Step Back
The first step to raising self-sufficient kids who will become independent young adults is to recognize that we’re not doing our kids a favor by taking care of their every need. While our motive behind “doing” for our child may come from a place of love and a desire to see our children succeed, it can do more harm than good.
Managing our older child’s schedule, cleaning their rooms for them, or making sure they don’t forget their homework, will ultimately handicap our children when it’s time for them to exercise these skills on their own.
Instead, step back and ask yourself if the tasks you’re performing for your child are something they’re actually developmentally ready to do themselves. If the skill is age-appropriate, then start to hand them over to your child — focusing on one skill at a time so that it is not overwhelming to your child. Not sure what tasks are age appropriate? Check out the lists here and here for some great ideas.
2: Take On the Mindset of a Coach
It’s very easy to become frustrated when our kids aren’t demonstrating the responsibility we expect from them.
How many times do we need to remind them that dirty clothes belong in the hamper? Or to not forget their soccer cleats before leaving for school on Tuesday? We may wonder why these seemingly simple tasks seem impossible for our children to master.
The danger with this is that we may criticize — explicitly or implicitly — our kids for their failures. Anyone who feels criticized isn’t likely to want to change their behavior or listen to further guidance from the person criticizing them.
It’s important to keep in mind that it takes time for children to develop skills and some skills don’t come naturally to every kid. Often children need our continued support for many years before they eventually demonstrate independence and responsibility.
Taking on the mindset of a coach can help. A good coach believes that the person he or she is coaching:
- Has potential to learn and grow
- Does not intentionally make mistakes
- Simply needs instruction to improve
Being supportive and respectful of where your child is in his or her developmental process will keep them open to receiving more guidance in the future.
3: Encourage Kids to Problem-Solve
Knowing how to problem-solve is a vital skill, as it equips children and adults with the ability to act independently in a variety of situations. One of the best ways to foster independence is to prioritize allowing kids to practice and fine-tune problem-solving while they’re still at home.
Let’s say your daughter forgot to submit her math homework today. It may be tempting to jump in and say “Well, if you had submitted it right when you finished it this never would have happened.” (And let’s face it, it takes a lot of willpower not to say this!)
Instead, you can build your daughter’s problem-solving skills by asking questions to help her avoid a similar mistake in the future. For example, you could ask: “What do you think you could do next time so you won’t forget to submit your homework?”
By prompting her with questions, she is not only more likely to come up with a good solution, but she’ll also be much more likely to follow-through with the solution since it was her idea.
4: Be Willing to Accept Failure
The truth is, few things ingrain a lesson more than failure. In her book The Gift of Failure, Jessica Lahey explains that challenging experiences and the associated failures allow kids to develop coping skills and encourage problem-solving.
If we shelter our children from failure, they’ll grow accustomed to never failing… but failure is part of life. Once they enter the world as an independent adult, we can’t protect our kids from the inevitable failures they’ll experience. If our children never experience insignificant (to us), kid-sized failures, they’ll have no idea how to handle significant, adult-sized set-backs.
5: Get Kids Started on Chores
One practical step parents can take to build a responsible mindset and foster independence is to have them do chores.
Children who are given chores are more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, achieve academic and early career success and be self-sufficient, according to a study conducted at the University of Minnesota.
Chores not only teach children how to perform basic household tasks, they also teach a sense of working towards a common good (in this case, contributing to keeping the family home clean).
It’s important, however, that kids feel included in the organization and execution of doing household chores, as opposed to being told that they must do them. For example, you could hold a family meeting and:
- Discuss how it’s in everyone’s interest to maintain a tidy and clean home
- Talk about how everyone (parents and kids) in the family does chores
- Make a list of which chores need to be done and discuss as a family who will do each
- Create a visual chart of the chores so no one “forgets” what they need to do
Here are some additional ideas for getting kids started on chores the right way. The key is to remember that this may take some effort upfront, but will vastly improve our chances of success in the long run.
6: Teach Kids Life Essentials Such As Money Management
Creating an environment for our kids where they can learn to problem-solve and exercise their independence is one of the most beneficial ways we can help them prepare for their adult lives.
Kids can also benefit from learning specific, essential life skills; such as how to do laundry, how to cook, and perhaps most beneficial of all, how to manage money.
That last skill is especially important because most people enter adulthood with no experience in managing money. Few schools teach students how to budget, save, and understand credit; so it’s often up to parents to teach their children.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is to give our kids a small amount of money to manage on their own and assign them some expenses to be responsible for. Young kids might receive three dollars each week and be responsible for purchasing craft supplies, Legos, or other toys. Teens might be made responsible for paying their cell phone bill, gas for the car, entertainment, and clothing.
This pairing of allowance and expenses provides kids with hands-on experience in determining how to budget, save and delay gratification to achieve goals.
When Your Patience Grows Thin, Keep the Long-Term Goal in Mind
It takes dedication and a whole lot of patience to foster independence in kids. It can be frustrating in the moment when our son has failed to make his bed for the third day in a row, or when our daughter hasn’t properly planned her weekend to get all her homework done. It’s so much easier to manage these tasks for our kids (not to mention we often do them better).
As parents, we must constantly remind ourselves of the long-term objective: to foster independence in our children so that they will not only survive, but thrive when they’re eventually out in the real world on their own.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
For our quick action plan, take some time to consider the following:
- Are there tasks or activities you know your child is capable of doing independently but it’s just been easier for you to do for him?
- Choose a few tasks that can be handed over to your child, one at a time, over the coming weeks.
- Remind yourself that handing over responsibilities will foster independence in your child, with the added bonus that you’ll no longer be burdened by the task.
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
With each task that you hand over to your child over the next few weeks, do the following:
- Build time into your schedule to allow your child to attempt the task independently.
- Consider a positive way to hand the task over to your child. This may mean having a conversation with your child about how they’re now grown-up enough to take on this responsibility.
- Help your child problem-solve solutions to challenges that arise. For example, if he forgets about his new chore, ask him how he can avoid forgetting in the future. Children often have perfect solutions to their own problems!
- Coach your child if necessary. If he’s never made his bed before, he will need some gentle guidance rather than criticism.
- Give yourself frequent reminders that it can take years for kids to master even simple tasks. Having patience will be helpful for both you and your child!