Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Cultivating Independence

"Mommy, I do it." These simple words can be the start of an exciting moment or the prelude to a power struggle or potential meltdown. From toddlers to adults, our kids want our support but also need to discover how to do things independently. One of the biggest challenges for a parent is knowing when to step back and let your child figure it out for herself. We want to step in, make it easier, and use opportunities as "teaching moments". But sometimes, we just need to stand down.

Cultivating independence is a learning experience for both parents and kids. From infancy on, we can find little steps that we can take to give our children room to grow and develop, while at the same time helping them to feel empowered and build a sense of self-confidence. How can we help our children become more independent? Here are some simple ideas to set them on their own paths:

Allow your child to experience frustration. Allow your child to fail. We tend to live in a praise-heavy culture where "good job" and awards have become meaningless. School coaches hand out medals just for showing up and gold stars pop up everywhere. Over-praising and working to "guarantee" success present their own challenges. Children need to try - and to fail. If we allow children the experience of frustration, we give them the opportunity to problem solve. We give them the chance to dig deeper, try harder. We also allow them to fail and to realize that failure doesn't define them, nor does it mean complete destruction. It is very difficult for us, as parents, to watch our children struggle and fail, but we need to remind ourselves of the power and sense of accomplishment your child will feel when the task has been conquered or achieved.

Give your child unscheduled time.
Make room for free play. Do you hear "I'm bored" all too often? Are you kids used to a hectic schedule of school, sports, activities, and playdates? Free time gives children a chance to explore and to learn independent play. Kids who can choose how to spend their time will learn to venture into new territories, explore their imagination, and develop their creativity. Passive entertainment is not going to build their independence. Get them outside to explore the world, let them pick a book to get lost in, or provide them with creative outlets where they can put their independent thoughts into action.

Honor your children. Honoring our own parents is not about blindly accepting all of their choices or beliefs, but about treating them with respect. The same goes for our children. Honor their voices and opinions. Get on their level when you speak with them and take their thoughts and ideas to heart. Validate their feelings and allow them to express their emotions openly and to work through them, even when they are not pleasant. Children who are validated will build self-confidence and will learn to manage a wide range of emotions and moods throughout life, without seeking outside influences for confirmation.

Giving your children room to grow and develop a sense of personal independence is one of the greatest things we can give our children. Happy Independence Day indeed!

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