Teaching Independence on Independence Day

Teaching Independence on Independence Day

Working with older kids, I have noticed two different kinds: the ones who can do things for themselves… and the ones who can’t. Teaching independence, starting at a young age, helps kids succeed in the future. Teaching independence does not mean you’re a bad parent, who leaves their kids home alone with matches and bologna.

Teaching Independence does not mean you are a bad parent

It means you’re carefully paying attention to their personal development and maturity level – and then taking a step back to let them do for themselves whatever they’re capable of doing. If they can tie their own shoes, stop doing it for them (even if you’re way faster). Tying your own shoes may seem like a small thing, but here’s the truth: kids who tie their own shoes grow up to fill out their own forms and make their own lunch.

teaching independence instead of helplessness

Teaching independence is the only way to prepare kids for adult life:

According to Mickey Goodman, from the Huffington Post, when we don’t let our kids do things for themselves – when we don’t let them fail (see recent blog post on failure) – they learn to fear trying anything new. If you have a minute, his article is pretty eye opening, and also offers practical solutions. Here are a few:

  • If your kid fails a test (or a class), let them suffer the consequences so they learn to try harder next time. Stop intervening with teachers, schools, coaches, etc.. on you child’s behalf. Let them learn to fix problems and find solutions on their own. Stop telling your kids they “have a bad math teacher”. They don’t. Math just requires hard work and practice – it doesn’t “come naturally” to anyone. This is a lie we tell ourselves so we can get out of doing the work.
  • Stop teaching them to “dream big” and start explaining that big dreams are accomplished by making and achieving several small goals.

Teaching independence one step at a time

  • Stop telling them they’re special. They’re not. That’s an arrogant notion that creates entitled, not “confident” children. Confidence comes, incidentally, from doing things for yourself, instead of having someone else do things for you. If you want your kids to be confident, stop tying their shoes for them – all you’re telling them (with your actions – much louder than your words) is that they’re too dumb to tie their own shoes, make their own lunch, fill out their own forms, memorize their own social security number, etc…

In many ways, teaching independence is a lot more work than simply doing it yourself. My husband and I once took a backpacking trip with ten kids, ages 12-17. Our job was to monitor and offer guidance, but we were forbidden from actually doing any of the work. The kids had to prepare all the meals, do all the packing, gather all the water, do all the lifting – everything. We were there to supervise.

And it was torture  – absolute torture – watching some of them spend an hour and a half chopping onions when it would have taken me thirty seconds or watching them tie loose, unstable ropes around our packs or puzzle over the tent poles, trying to get our shelter ready.

It’s hard, but ultimately it’s worth it to eat dinner a little late or have your pack get a little wet, in order to turn kids into future leaders, doers, and thinkers.