Steps to Independence

steps to independence 2
Steps to Independence

Raising children is one of the most challenging jobs in the world. You love your children sincerely and want to protect them from the world. All those times we jump in to help or drive instead of letting them get the bus, we show our love. However, the endpoint is not for your son or daughter to survive childhood but to thrive when they leave your home. So as always, balance is the key. It is fascinating to see how independence is developed in different cultures and to see what the norm is elsewhere.

It is deeply rewarding to see your children slowly learning to be independent. It works hand and hand with responsibility. Toddlers watch things happening around them and try to do these tasks themselves. When children cannot perform what we perceive as simple things, they have not developed that skill yet. It would be unreasonable to expect a new employee to open up a cafe and sort out the banking on their first day. In the same way, you would not expect someone to hit a golf ball the length of a fairway the first time they hold a club. So it is with being independent in life. We have learned these skills by being shown by our parents and making mistakes. In education, this is called ‘scaffolding – you take a complex task and break it down into several smaller steps. You do not add the next layer of complexity to the previous level has been grasped. However, true independence is more than a set of skills – it is a mindset to give things a go. It is likely what is holding you back are your own anxieties.

Due to the community’s disconnection, worries about safety, and a fear of being judged by our child’s mistakes, plenty of parents nowadays struggle with what their children should and should not do at certain ages. In the chaos of getting everyone out the door in the morning, we can act like an army sergeant barking out orders. The dread of a poor test result or a missed soccer practice means that we take ownership of homework and packing bags. Teaching your children independence is more important than their test score on a spelling test aged 8. The dilemma is that you must also make sure that the things you are expecting them to do are age-appropriate. Not so much to be judged but to ensure enough success for them to keep trying. We have further guidance on how to help your child study independently here.

An excellent way to keep track of this with your children is to set milestones in the same way a golf coach breaks the swing into smaller parts. It helps both parents and children to keep up with what is reasonable. It also makes it a series of small successes rather than an overwhelming mountain of a task. This might be different for each child and family as factors such as the journey to school and the local shop’s nearness might limit practice opportunities.

Let’s simplify everything, organize it, and put it together for an easier read, shall we?

Teaching Your Children Independence

Knowing what’s expected of your children at certain ages is one thing, and teaching them the independence and confidence to pull those things off is another. Below are some tips to help your child.

1. Help Them Identify Opportunities to do Things Themselves

Develop a list of things your children can do by themselves already and what the next step should be. Based on this list, make a list of appropriate tasks and ask them what they feel like they are big enough of taking on themselves. Choosing no more than three will ensure they are more willing to try. Here are some age-appropriate chores here.

2. Allow time

Your child will take far longer to pack their bag than you will. If it takes you 5 minutes, allow them 30. To start with, they have to do it the night before, but they will become more efficient over time.

3. Prioritize

Your children don’t need to do everything all at once. Focus on specific tasks one at a time. As above, scaffold, so ‘getting themselves ready for school’ is broken down into smaller steps – such as getting dressed before coming down, then packing a bag, then organizing a snack; mastering each tiny step before adding a second.

4. Positive Words of Encouragement

Try to get your children on board to perform specific tasks expected of them by encouraging them with positive words. Let’s take a look at when the time comes for your child will be getting homework over the weekend from school.

5. Minimize Micromanaging Your Kids

When your children are learning how to tackle tasks themselves, they might approach it differently from you. Perhaps they brush their teeth before getting dressed. As long as they get to the same endpoint, does this matter?

6. Stop Worrying About Perfection

It would help if you accepted the fact that your child will not be able to perform tasks as well as you do the first time. If your child puts too much milk on their cereal rather than worry and get angry, just let it be. These things will come in time. Praise them for their attempts.

In a similar vein, your children will do things just plain wrong. Instead of telling them that they have got it wrong, tell them that you’re impressed they have organized their breakfast with no prompting. Your child will realize the mistake themselves. Do follow up and let them know that you’re confident they will get it right next. Here is some guidance on helping a child who struggles with perfectionism.

7. Share the Load (Sometimes)

Sometimes, your child might not want to perform a task even though they have mastered it. It is not a bad thing to share the load with your children from time to time. Stand with your child and help them put their clothes away sometimes if they are struggling.

This is not a backward step. It is modeling

how we would like them to behave when we are snowed under. Imagine when you are busy cooking if your child, without saying anything, comes in and empties the dishwasher. You know you’ve made it then!

8. Let Them Face The Consequences

If your child forgets a book for school, let them suffer the consequence rather than worry about the immediate problem. Many of us are guilty of swooping in to save the day or chasing up on a WhatsApp group the missing homework. As long as it is not serious, let the consequences play themselves out.

Expectations At Certain Ages

MyNameTags conducted a study in which they asked 2,000 parents several questions about their expectations of their children at certain ages. Combining this with governmental guidelines, we have compiled a series of suggested ages for different activities. If you like a road map for independence. Before looking at the findings, you must set your expectations based on your child and circumstances. If your child cannot talk to a shopkeeper yet or the store is 5 miles away, it is unreasonable to ask a seven-year-old to go for milk. Children and circumstances are individual, and as such, please do not use this as a set of rules! These are a result of a survey, and everyone’s circumstances are different. Do remember, though, that children are far more capable than you probably think. Read this amazing experiment of 5-year-olds making their own way across London.

At Seven Years of Age

By the time your child is seven, your child should be able to tell the time and learn how to ride a bicycle. Telling the time is a crucial skill. It allows them to be in control of doing other tasks and managing their own time.

At Eight Years of Age

By this age, they should be able to get ready and have cereal on their own in the morning. This does not mean that you shouldn’t help them or spend time with them. But let them decide the order of teeth or brushing hair themselves. Allow plenty of time to begin with! They should also learn how to put their clothes in the wash and get ready for school in the morning.

At Nine Years of Age

Around nine, you should start giving your child some pocket money. We have a full section on developing financial independence and teaching the importance of money management. Your child should be able to lay the table and learn how to bathe or take a shower without your help.

At Ten Years of Age

Most parents agreed that at the age of ten, a child should learn independence and take on more responsibilities. Your child should learn how to put at least his or her dishes away after eating. Children around that age should also become more careful about their belongings, and if they lose them, it is reasonable for there to be some form of financial penalty.

Children should also be able to have more choice in how they spend their free time and what they wear. They should be able to have sleepovers or go to their friends’ houses for sleepovers.

Your children should know how to get ready for school by this age and fold their clothes after taking them off. Things get a little more challenging now as they prepare for senior school.

At Eleven Years of Age

Around this age, you should allow your children to have at least a simple mobile. Many parents might debate this, and we do here, but it can be a useful learning tool and will start getting them used to managing screen time independently. It also means that they can be away from home for extended periods with less worry for us! With the move to high school, they will have so much to remember in terms of organization that it would not be uncommon to see things slip at home. It might mean that you need to support them again by folding clothes so they feel like they are not overwhelmed.

At Twelve Years of Age

If the school’s within 30 minutes, your child should be able to walk or cycle to school by themselves. It does not mean you don’t love them if you don’t drop them off every day. Instead, you trust them and prepare them for life! They can play at the local park without supervision. They should have their own key by now.

At Thirteen Years of Age

They can be in the house on their own if you’re heading out for an evening. They can make dinner and put themselves to bed. Similarly, they can take total charge of their own social life and go to town with friends for the day. However, with this independence, it would not be unreasonable to expect them to have several chores, possibly linked to pocket money. I would also expect them to occasionally start getting dinner for the family if they are first in, not just for themselves.

At Fourteen Years of Age

If not already, they can make accounts on social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. They can go to the movies with their friends late in the evening.

As stressed before, these are all very much dependent on your circumstances and child. I, for instance, allow my 9-year-old to walk around the village on his own. However, I am far stricter on the use of the internet than many.

Final Thoughts on Steps to Independence

The most important thing throughout the different stages of your child’s growth is to remain calm as they learn independence. As your child takes on more tasks, there will be minor issues coming their way. Stephanie Thornton believes that problem-solving skills develop through experience and interaction with the problem. This, in turn, is vital for developing their confidence levels.

Encourage your children by asking them whether they can think of ways to solve a particular problem. If they cannot come up with a solution immediately, give them some time to think of something before making suggestions that might work. Just let them choose the option they want to go with. It might not work, but they are starting to think for themselves. This is the true meaning of independence rather than completing a tick list of tasks. If co-parenting it would be very positive to try and have both households have similar expectations.

Lastly, it’s essential to be patient and relax while you teach independence to your children. You might have many messes to clean up while letting your child learn independence but hearing them say that they did it by themselves with that excitement will make all of it worth the trouble. If you make life look hard, it might make them fear becoming an adult.