How to encourage children to be more independent

If there is one area I think most parents could focus on more to help their children succeed in later life, it would be to encourage their independence. Self-reliance boosts self-esteem, which in turn gives children the courage to face new situations knowing they have all the resources within to tackle them successfully. Yet as parents, we often race in too early to rescue our children inadvertently thwarting their attempts at independence; your child will not be psychologically scarred by feeling frustrated, being pushed out of their comfort zone, or asked to at least genuinely try to complete a task themselves before asking you to swoop in to assist.

If we make these five simple shifts in our pattern of behaviour we can sit back and enjoy our children’s new found confidence.

  1. Be clear about your expectations

One of the main reasons why children remain dependent and fail to do tasks on their own is that we fail to communicate clearly our expectations. So we find ourselves repeatedly having to prompt them to pack their bags for school, make their beds, and brush their teeth! We teach them to rely on our prompts and they usually only act once we’ve raised our voices. It’s therefore important to set clear house rules, starting with only 1-2 things you want your children to do without your prompting. Be clear what needs to happen and by when. Then, and this is the critical part, discuss what the consequences will be if they fail to complete their tasks independently. Make sure the consequence links directly with the behaviour, for example, if they don’t pack their school bag and leave it by the door the night before, then the consequence is you leave the house without it. This can be a hard for us to accept as parents but it is a very valuable lesson and trust me, your child is unlikely to do it again once they’ve had to explain to their teacher why they are unprepared for school.

  1. Set developmentally appropriate tasks

It is absolutely key that any tasks you set your child are appropriate to their stage of development rather than linked to their age. Children mature differently so treat them as the unique individuals they are and set tasks which are appropriate for where they are right now developmentally rather than how old they are.

  1. Talk to children with the expectation that they’ll do what you ask

I often find parents are almost apologetic when they ask their children to carry out tasks or they use too many words. If children know what we expect from them then our prompts should be matter of fact, unapologetic, and with a clear expectation that our requests will be complied with. There’s no need for long discussions and recollections of past times when tasks have not been completed, otherwise your child will switch off; they have a ‘nag voice’ radar which simply switches off.

  1. Give them household chores to complete

Your home is shared by everyone living in it and so it is only reasonable to expect everyone to contribute towards keeping it clean and tidy. This is where you would set developmentally appropriate tasks, for example laying the table, packing the dishwasher, bringing dirty laundry downstairs, making their beds, etc.

  1. Praise their efforts

It is important to praise your child’s every step towards independence. They can sense false praise so limit your comments to factual ‘tell them what you see’ comments, and lose the superlatives, for example “I am so impressed you started your homework without being asked it shows you’re being very responsible / determined / mature”. The praise not only acknowledges your child’s good behaviour, it also reinforces the desired behaviour without the need for nagging.

This article is sponsored by Dr Maryhan Baker, an experienced parenting coach and psychologist. You can read more of her articles here.