Teaching independence to your child is a task that most parents would agree is part of their parental duties. The debate arises, however, when you ask them when and how their children begin their lessons in independence.
I’m no psychological expert, but my 26 years of parenting have given me an “expert” status resulting from years of in-home research. And on those grounds, I’d like to suggest to parents that there are four stages of independence education for your children.
Step 1: Bond from birth
I’m pretty sure that teaching independence is not the first thing you think about when you gaze at a newborn baby. In fact, most parents are probably struck by their baby’s utter helplessness and dependence on his caregivers.
So why does it start at birth?
Because the foundation for independence later in life is the love and bonding that takes place between parent and child while your babies are too young to have a clue.
The “real” experts like Kidshealth.org agree with me! They stress just how important it is for parent and child to bond from the beginning.
The strong ties between parents and their child provide the baby’s first model for intimate relationships and foster a sense of security and positive self-esteem. And parents’ responsiveness to an infant’s signals can affect the child’s social and cognitive development.
You will obviously not see independence growing in your baby, but the bonding that starts at birth is an investment that will produce dividends later in your child’s life.
Stage 2: Push and pull from toddler to elementary age
Remember the push me/pull you animal in Dr. Doolittle? That’s what this stage of independence learning looks like.
One minute your child is pushing you away, the next he is holding on for dear life.
In this stage, it is your job to guide, teach, love and support, even as you are giving them daily choices that will grow their independence. In this daily give and take, it is your job to determine when to push and when to pull because your child desperately needs a balance of both if he is to grow into independence.
Stage 3: Coaching from the Sidelines, Middle School through High School
Coaching from the sidelines does not mean that you are not involved. It means that you are still guiding and teaching, but doing it as they are playing the game of life. You listen, ask questions, take advantage of teachable moments, laugh, enjoy, impart wisdom when you have their true attention, and cheer them on.
Stage 4: Offer Counsel When it is Sought, from High School Through College (and beyond)
In this stage it may be hard for parents to back off because many of us are still supporting kids through college. We figure if we are paying at least some of their bills, then we should have a say in how they live their lives.
To some degree, I believe that’s true. If your child is make choices that are very damaging to himself or to your family, you may have to cut the financial strings or demand changes if they still want your funding.
But in most cases, this is the season when the birds have been pushed out of the nest and must learn to fly. That means they don’t have to check with you on every decision or choice. And if you think the fact that you are still supporting them gives you say over their lives, then I urge you to re-think that view. Money should not be the only reason that you have influence over them.
Teaching Independence to Your Child is a Process
Achieving independence is a learning process for parent and child. Parents are continually learning to give up control as kids are learning to take it. It takes work, persistence, patience and love, and reaps huge rewards when our kids are finally soaring on their own.
Check back with me in a few years and I most likely expound on the process by adding a 5th stage to the list!
Football moms: get your survival guide for the fall season! Football Mom’s Survival Guide.
Get my free new report: Sportsparents’ Guide: 55 time & money-saving tips guaranteed to make your life easier. You’ll also get regular sports parenting tips each week and a weekly parenting tip. Sign up here.