A few weeks ago, my friend, Brittany Minor of Clumps of Mascara asked me how to get kids less needy because she was sick of her kids needing her so much. She spends plenty of time cuddling and loving them, so it’s not that she’s a mean mommy. Brittany would just like her children to literally hang on her leg a smidge less.
Incidentally, we’re in the business of raising future adults; it’s our job as parents to teach our children appropriate boundaries and equip them with the skills necessary to live life without us. Also, go check out her blog. Brittany is funny, insightful, and honest. I love the way she parents her kids and nurtures everyone around her.
[clickToTweet tweet=”With each successive child, I have grown lazier and lazier and as a result, the kids have gotten more and more capable. #parenting #independentkids #parentingwin #parentingfail” quote=”With each successive child, I have grown lazier and lazier and as a result, the kids have gotten more and more capable. ” theme=”style1″]
Anyhow, since I have so many children and I subscribe to the Parenting Philosophy of Benign Neglect, here are some of my tips on how to raise independent children. Keep in mind, my kids are 8, 6, 4, and 17 months so YMMV – especially if your children are older and teenagers.
How to Raise Independent Kids
1) Age matters. So does birth order.
Look, there’s no getting around this. Your 2 year old (or your infant child) is not going to be independent for some time. I mean, they might be self-sufficient for their age, but in general, they’re going to need you.
Sometimes, you just have to wait until your child hits the developmental milestone.
That said, there are still things you can do that are age appropriate. Your toddler cannot change their own diaper, but they can perhaps get their own water or feed themselves.
For instance, Sasquatch (17mo) has been getting his own cups and even reaching the water dispenser of our refrigerator since he was around one. He figured out how to use a stool to reach the stuff he wanted before he turned one and he has also opened the pantry to retrieve his own snacks. He can also open his own doors, let himself out after his nap, and quite a few other things – all without being able to say more than 4-5 words.
However, remember that Sasquatch is the youngest of FOUR children and has three older siblings he copies and models his behavior after. I guarantee you that Cookie Monster (8) was NOT doing ANY of these things at 17 months, let alone 2 or 3 years old.
With each successive child, I have grown lazier and lazier and as a result, the kids have gotten more and more capable. So, a lot of the things I have Cookie Monster do now, I automatically level up Gamera (6) and sometimes Glow Worm (4) because I can’t be bothered to remember if it’s developmentally appropriate. As a result, Gamera and Glow Worm do WAY more stuff than Cookie Monster did at their age.
They should be thanking me for making them so capable so early.
2) Whatever you want your children to do without you, make sure they have both the access and knowledge to do it.
It’s logical, right? In order for your child to do something independently, they need to be able to do it on their own. And since children don’t come pre-loaded with knowledge or life experience, you will have to provide it for them.
For example, if you want your child to get their own water or food, you must first invest the time upfront to re-arrange your kitchen so their cups, plates, and utensils are in locations they can reach. You need to re-organize your pantry and refrigerator so that the foods they can eat are accessible and easy to open. Then you need to teach them how to get the water or food and what they can eat without your permission, etc.
If you want your child to microwave food on their own, you must take the time to teach them how to use a stool if they’re not tall enough, what buttons to push, how to remove plates or bowls from the microwave safely, how long certain food items take to heat, etc.
If you want your child to load or unload the dishwasher, you need to teach them how you want the dishwasher loaded, where the dishes and utensils go, how to reach cupboards that are too high for them, how to be safe with dishsoap and water, how to add dishwashing detergent, etc.
If you want your child to do their own laundry (or at least fold it), you need to teach them how to fold their clothes, where to put them away, and whatever else you need them to know.
If you want your child to draw or play or do crafts without you, all the materials they need have to be out or at their height, they need to know scissors safety, or where they can or cannot bring playdough, or that they cannot paint in carpeted areas.
[clickToTweet tweet=”We’re in the business of raising future adults; it’s our job as parents to teach our children appropriate boundaries and equip them with the skills necessary to live life without us. #parenting #lifeskills” quote=”We’re in the business of raising future adults; it’s our job as parents to teach our children appropriate boundaries and equip them with the skills necessary to live life without us. ” theme=”style1″]
3) You will need high tolerance (and patience) for crying and the inevitable mistakes.
Just like they advise wives who complain about their husbands not doing things the way they want them to (yes, I realize this is a very sexist comment), you cannot yell at or get mad at your kids while they’re learning a new skill. Well, I guess you can, but it’s unlikely to produce what you want because when have you ever obtained a new skill while someone was yelling at you?
You will have to be ok with letting things go.
Do the clothes REALLY have to be folded a certain way as long as your kid does it themselves and puts them away where they’re supposed to? Do they REALLY have to do things the way YOU want them to do it as long as it’s done?
I mean, short of putting your children in harm’s way, there’s a lot of give in the HOWs, right? So, figure out which things can be dropped and which things are absolutes. You will be much happier.
In our house, my children have to do certain things for homeschool before they can goof off and play. I don’t care what order they do it in or what books they choose as long as they do it. I’m shockingly lax about it.
Also, when you’re initially training your kids to do stuff on their own, they might not want to do it. Thus, there will be a lot of crying and whining. If you can’t handle that, you will give in and end up doing things for them.
This is how I ended up spoon-feeding Cookie Monster and Gamera until they were 5 and 3 respectively while Glow Worm was feeding himself at 1. By the time I got my act together to make them feed themselves, there was a LOT of weeping and gnashing of teeth. But eventually, they learned because hunger is a great motivator.
Quick Tip: Take advantage of when your child expresses interest in wanting to learn something.
For instance, Cookie Monster really wanted to learn how to wash dishes as well as make his own smoothies. Even though it took more time than I wanted to invest in order how to teach him these things, I knew that there was a tiny sliver of time when he will want to learn this stuff and if I refuse him too many times, he will stop asking.
So, I sucked it up and taught him a bunch of things and my life has simplified and he’s learned new skills.
4) Resist the urge to interfere and fix things for your children.
The rule of thumb in my house is that short of blood (and that blood better be flowing and not some paltry scratch), I am not getting up to check.
This, of course, probably accounts for at least some of our frequent ER trips.
However, this has also resulted in my kids figuring out how to solve their own arguments and problems. They’re excellent negotiators among themselves and are willing to compromise a lot in order to avoid getting Mean Mommy involved.
Now, occasionally, (ok, several times a day), my kids will come to me with a problem, and instead of telling them the answer, I ask them leading questions such as:
Do you think what you’re doing now is a good idea? If not, what could you do instead?
Why do you think your brother/sister is reacting this way? What could you do differently?
Do you think what you’re doing right now is a good way to get what you want from me? What would make me change my mind?
I am not exaggerating when I say that I leave my kids alone a lot to fend for themselves. Sometimes, it resembles (affiliate link) Lord of the Flies, but more often than not, it gives me moments of sanity (if not peace and quiet).
5) Make your kids do stuff.
Whenever I examine my parenting style, I’m always a bit surprised at just how much free reign I give my children. I always thought that I would be such a control freak because let’s be honest. I am a total Type-A, anal retentive, bossy and controlling person.
However, I am realizing that my capacity for laziness is much, much, much, much, MUCH greater than my need and desire to have everything the way that I want it.
Thus, I make Cookie Monster and Gamera do a lot of things for me. They help bathe, dress, change Glow Worm. Pretty much the only thing I do for Glow Worm is wipe his bottom after he poops.
There are two side benefits to making my older kids help me with my younger kids:
a) They learn responsibility.
b) They get sick of doing things for Glow Worm and teach him how to do it himself.
I mean, come on! Those are serious life skills there!
My children (and their future partners, employers, and employees) should be THANKING ME for teaching them to be this self-sufficient.
Alright, that’s it for me (that I can readily recall). What have you done to raise independent kids? Let me know in the comments.