Risky Business: How To Raise An Independent Child

It’s said that parenting is a job that has no end date, that long after the last child leaves the nest you’ll still be providing succor, sometimes shelter, and at the very least, advice. But the every-moment-of-the-day phase of parenthood comes with an element of planned obsolescence. Someday, whether you’re ready or not, your fledgling will fly on his own.

Here are some simple ways to encourage independence, self-reliance, and confidence so that your child will go boldly into the world.


Give Them Responsibilities

In some homes, birthdays are celebrated with a party, cake, gifts, and one new family responsibility. The age-appropriate chore is treated as a mark of maturity. It’s a vote of confidence from the parents that the child is ready to take on big-kid tasks.

Children need to believe that they are competent and capable and that sensibility should come from the people they love the most.

Let Them Take (Low, Calculated, Age-Appropriate) Risks

All parents want to smother their children in safety. It’s a natural, necessary instinct. But today, only about 13% of American children walk to school and playdates are minutely scheduled. Monitoring kids too closely elicits a cost in both freedom and a sense of independence.

Every child is different, and thus there are no hard-and-fast rules as to when you should allow a measure of freedom. Generally, a five-year-old who understands directions (and knows the way) should be able to walk down the street to visit a friend. A patient, careful first grader should be able to cross a suburban street alone. A mature second-grader may be ready to ride his or her bike to school. Check out this article on how to encourage independence, age by age.

Let Them Fail

Rather than immediately stepping in to help a preschooler who is having trouble with buttons, shoelaces, or homework, consider if a few more moments of fumbling or deep thought might allow them to solve the problem on their own. Self-esteem rises when a child conquers a difficulty himself.

Accountability is also critical in instilling a sense of self-reliance. If a school-aged child is responsible for packing their homework, sports equipment, and lunch, and they fail to do so, it may be wiser to let them suffer the consequences rather than rush a sandwich to them in the middle of the day. They’re more likely to pack wisely if they’re forced to spend some of their hard-earned allowance on an apple bought from a vending machine.

Watching your child go off on his own, whether to kindergarten, college, or just across the street, is a heart-stopping moment—until they flash you a confident, triumphant smile. Then all you’ll feel is pride.

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