How to Raise an Independent Child

Gaining more independence is an important and natural part of growing up. So what can parents do to make sure their kids are getting the support they need in order to become independent?

Some suggestions include giving them a sense of ownership over responsibilities, setting them meaningful tasks that have clear expectations and letting children work through problems without intervention from adults.

That last one is hard. I know.

So why is independence so important?

Have you noticed that all babies and young children tend to ‘want to do things by themselves?' This tendency is the beginning of independence and, as a parent, it is really important for you to encourage this. Here's why.

Independence is important because…

Children who have a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy are better at handling stress, building relationships with others, and developing their own identity.

Building independence contributes to motivation and perseverance in school. When kids are independent and motivated from within they are likely to be more successful academically (and beyond!).

Children who feel like they have control over their life are more confident in making decisions.

Independent children are able to build better social relationships and have more self-awareness and empathy.

When children are encouraged to be independent they are able to develop other important skills like concentration, cooperation, and self-motivation.

Building Self-Esteem in Children

Independent children are more confident in their actions and feel more responsible for their actions. Isn't that what we want?

One way parents can work towards developing self esteem by providing age appropriate responsibilities and positive feedback.

You can start by guiding or showing your child how to complete a project. Here's an example.

You give little Johnny a task. Let's say you can him to make his bed. He has never done this before and he doesn't feel super confident about it. So you bring him upstairs and tell him you two will do it together. You show him how to pull up the blanket, fluff the pillows and arrange all the stuffed animals.

You don't do all the work, just guide him through it. It isn't going to be perfect, but it will be done. And you can praise the effort and tell him you are excited for him to take on this responsibility and that he will continue to improve his bed making skills. Yay! Go you. Your kids is not excited to practice making his bed.

It's so important to capitalize on the stage of kids “wanting to help” and giving them REAL tasks to complete. Here is the thing. It might be painful to watch at first. They won't do the task perfectly, and you'll want to jump in and help or worse….re-do what they have done.

But it's important you resist. Step back and let them practice, give them gentle encouragement and make sure you are breaking things down into easy steps.

Here is a basic list of chores you can encourage independence in your kiddos.

Appropriate Chores for Kids of All Ages

Again, we want the chores we give our children to be real. Giving them real work makes the action more meaningful and therefore naturally teaches responsibility, pride in ones work, accountability and time management (all important executive functioning skills).

Age Appropriate Chores for 2-4 year olds

– Help put their toys away

– Help wash fruits and vegetables

– Bring you the book they want you to read (and put it back!)

– Organize the clean silverware

– Use a straw cleaner to clean reusable straws

– Wipe the counters with a safe cleaning solution (we make our own with mild soap and essential oils)

– Put their dirty clothes in a hamper, put their clothes into the washing machine with help, and push the button

Age Appropriate Chores for 4-6 year olds

– Feeding pets

– Setting the table

– Help put the groceries away (they can also help carry lighter weight and less breakable items to the house)

– Cleaning up toys with less supervision

– Hanging up jackets and backpacks or putting shoes in the shoe bin

– Matching clean socks or folding smaller laundry items

– Using a lightweight vacuum or broom to help clean the floors

– Being responsible for making their bed

Age Appropriate Chores for 7-10 year olds

– Helping in the kitchen (for example, they can help with food prep including chopping, pouring, mixing)

– Loading and unloading the dishwasher or washing dishes in the sink

– Folding all their own laundry

– Completing basic yard work like raking, helping shovel snow, weeding (this can be done earlier if they are interested!)

Age Appropriate Chores for 11-14 year olds

– Caring for pets including walking, feeding, and bathing

– Vacuuming the house

– Taking out the trash

– Mowing the Lawn (maybe even mowing for someone else to make some $)

– Keeping their room tidy

– Taking over the laundry process for their clothes

Developing Healthy Relationships

When you raise an independent child you are raising an adult who can build healthy relationships with themselves and others.

Raising independent kids who know how to work with others and who are confident in their abilities will not only help them in their early years but also when they venture out into the workforce. Being independent allows for children (and adults) to establish healthy boundaries that will help children in all their relationships.

It is important to trust in your own abilities no matter the age, and teaching independence when kids are young allows them to begin trusting themselves.

Encourage Children to Think Critically

Independence empowers children to take ownership of problems and work to find solutions. It helps them feel confident to really think about things instead of just accepting everything without a second thought.

Critical thinking is one of the most important skills we can instill in our children if we want them to be able to make good decisions….and isn't that what we want!

Allow for Natural Consequences

Another benefit to encouraging independence is that children will more quickly learn the natural consequences of their actions. Kids are just like adults in that they have to learn through consequences–and it's much better to have them learn while you're there to guide and support them.

For example, as an adult, if I forget to get groceries (Instacart is my savior) then we don't have food to make healthy meals and instead my kids just eat cereal for dinner (not that they complain!). Or if I don't follow the rules of the road, I get a ticket. Miss a bill? Pay a late fee. These are what are called natural consequences. And they can be hard lessons learned.

As parents, it's important for our children to experience as many natural consequences as possible (vs us imposing consequences on them). For example, my kids often think they know what they need to wear for the weather. They will choose to wear a tee-shirt when it's only 40 degrees out. After explaining that it's chilly outside and they might be cold, they may still make the choice to wear a teeshirt. And guess what? I'm not going to stop them.

When they inevitably go outside, get cold, and have to stop playing….that's a natural consequence. Typically I take the time afterward to gently remind them about planning for the type of weather and we talk about what would have been better to wear–maybe layers, a sweatshirt, jacket… Now if you were to insist they wear a jacket or bring one for them, that is taking away the opportunity for them to learn the natural consequence (which is going to teach them responsibility much faster). This is going to help your child learn to follow the rules and pay attention to what is their responsibility.

Independence if a Life Skill

Parents need to foster independence in their children. This allows them the opportunity to solve problems on their own when they grow up and venture into a world full of uncertainties, which is something that many parents fear for themselves as well as for their children.

You cannot know what you are capable of until you have been given an adequate chance at it. Parents often want to shield their children from any potential difficulties by maintaining tight control over every aspect, but this does not allow people freedom or room to explore growth opportunities – both necessary steps towards personal development and success later in life.

When you raise an independent kid you are helping provide them the self-confidence and discipline to complete school work on their own, play without standing by their side, solve problems with their friends,  be responsible for their belongings, and more.

Interested in other tips and tricks for raising independent kids? Learn how Open Ended toys can encourage independence through purposeful play.