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Encourage Independence...

Encourage Independence in Your Child

Parents can only give advice or put children on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands. –Anne Frank

Children, when given the proper direction, can and should learn to speak for themselves. Can you recall a playgroup when your toddler and another child couldn’t play nice and the “well-meaning” mom who was always trying to “fix” everything? The flip side is the parent who never steps in to correct bad behavior; not what I am encouraging here. Yes, we parents should make sure that children, especially younglings, aren’t putting themselves or others in harms way, but there comes a time when grown-ups need to take a giant step back and let the kids figure things out.

From time to time, children have difficulties at school and it never fails that a parent will run to school and try to “fix” everything, by-passing the child altogether. I wonder how the child feels when he suddenly has no voice and no opportunity to learn the very important life-skill of problem solving. Do parents need to sometimes get involved? Absolutely. Some issues should involve parents, but the daily challenges of missed homework, difficulty mastering the new math equation, and so and so is bothering me is something the child can probably handle on his own. Give the child the opportunity to work through it and if that doesn’t work, then Mom, Dad feel free to jump in. When children learn how to work through life’s challenges, they will succeed in life. After all Mom and Dad won’t always be there to “fix” it, better learn now. 

What is the appropriate age to encourage independence? As early as possible. By about the third grade if not sooner, we encouraged our kids to follow up with teachers about missed work, etc. Yes, we could have sent notes or emails to the teachers, but our children needed to realize that it was their responsibility not ours. Sometimes we had to remind them, but in the end they handled the issue. Independence is great for self esteem – never do for your child what he can do for himself.

The same goes for sports. Our kids pick the activities they want to participate in and therefore really enjoy what they do. They own it ... we support them. Communication between coach and child is imperative to the child’s athletic experience. If one of our children wanted to play a certain position or swim in a certain event, we would ask, “Did you talk to your coach?” Letting the child handle the situation does three things: 1) proves that the child wants it enough to ask the coach; 2) gives the child the opportunity to speak for himself and hear directly from the coach why he will or will not be allowed to perform the activity; 3) Allows the child to handle an important matter himself. Trust that the coaches know what they are doing.

Finally, teachers and coaches often know our children as well as we do. They spend countless hours together in a game-on atmosphere observing test taking, practices, and general behavior. Often they know what is best for our children because they do have the advantage of seeing our kids in their natural habitat so to speak. Encourage your children to talk to, ask, speak with, and question their teachers and coaches* I’m sure that you will be surprised to see what they can do for themselves.

*Each child comes with a unique set of challenges. Parents must make decisions based on what they feel is right for their child. This post is merely based on observations/experience and is not meant to apply to every unique situation. You still need to maintain open communication with teachers/coaches AND you still need to dig into the bottom of the backpack to search for the missing paper hidden under the Goldfish crumbs and broken crayons – sorry.

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