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3 Ways to Raise Independent Children

Try a different way of parenting.

Raising Independent Children
Source: Pexels

I know I want my children to be independent, creative thinkers, and good problem solvers. In working with parents daily, I know this is your goal too.

But how do we get there? How can we turn our daily interactions into opportunities for building these skills that they will need in their adolescence, their young adulthood, and in life?

We all love our children and want to give them a life that is comfortable and happy. But is our job really to create that much comfort? Shouldn’t we give our children opportunities to fail and try again while they are still under our roof?

Ask Questions; Answer a Question With a Question

When our children are younger, we give them much direction and tell them how to do things. As they get older, our job is to direct them, but not tell them how to do it. This is challenging, because I know I think, “This will be hard for him,” “It will take less time if I just do it for her,” or “I just don’t have time for the arguing or yelling.” But then where are the opportunities for our children to practice the skills they need?

Instead of saying, “Start your homework at 3:30 p.m.,” ask, “When will you start your homework?”

Instead of saying, “Start with your math homework; it’s the easiest,” ask, “Which homework assignment do you want to tackle first? Easiest or hardest?”

Instead of answering the question, “How do I start this paper?” ask, “What’s your thesis or theme?”

Instead of giving directives, ask questions. For teenagers, it gives them the perception of being in control, which is exactly what they want. Even though you are guiding the thought process to reach the conclusions, their perception is that they figured it out, which is great too!

Through your questions, your child or teen is answering their own questions. What does this mean in the long run? They don’t panic in your experience with figuring things out, which builds a sense of self-esteem and the “I can” factor.

When you find yourself getting ready to give a lot of direction, stop and ask a question instead.

Ask Them How to Set Up a System

Our daily lives are filled with systems. Systems for our routines to get ready in the morning, taking a shower, getting ready for bed, and so on. As parents, we tend to be the Master of Systems, but what if we asked our children and teens questions like, “What kind of system or chart can we put in place to help you get ready in the morning? To get ready for bed? To get your homework done?”

What if you let your child figure out a way to set up a system or chart to help them with whatever challenge they think they are having? They would begin to think independently. They wouldn’t fear problems. Perhaps they may even enjoy challenges for the opportunities they give to come up with a creative solution.

As they come up with solutions and systems, don’t discourage or point out the flaws. Instead, let your child experiment and find the flaws. This may cause frustration or disappointment, but that may also result in a different possibility. Encourage the thoughts, the plans, and the follow-through.

Then ask your child to assess the outcome and offer no judgment. Ask questions such as,

  • “Did you like how that worked out?"
  • "What did you like about it?"
  • "Why didn’t you like it?"
  • "Is there something you would change?"
  • "What would you change?"
  • "Why would you change it?"
  • "How do you think it will change the outcome?”

Let’s Take This Outside

No matter who you are or how old you are, we all need to play. We all need time to play a game, ride a bike, gather acorns, or whatever else makes us happy. As adults, we lose touch with doing things that are fun. Make time in your home to go outside, to play, to laugh together.

Most of our real-life lessons and fond memories come from these interactions where we are just playing, telling a funny story, or sharing a meal. Instead of putting the emphasis on enrichment and other extra-curricular activities, really assess the importance of that activity and the value it brings to your child and your family. If it doesn’t add anything, don’t sign up. I would rather see you and your children take a bike ride or play a card game instead of driving around town and eating dinner in the back seat.

Parenting is a tough job. The hardest one I’ve had yet. I want my children to be happy, but being happy doesn’t mean not being challenged. So, I give you permission not to do and say as much to your children, but rather to sit back, pause, ask questions, and play.

More from Liz Nissim-Matheis Ph.D.
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