Taking little steps toward independence

June 25, 2014 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

“Mom, you don’t have to sing tonight,” said my boy as I settled in beside him.

“Oh, OK,” I replied hesitantly. Our nightly routine had given us time to connect at the end of a busy day, and I liked that. “Do you just want to get to sleep tonight?”

“I mean, like, ever again,” he said.

And it was done, just like that. In an instant, we bid farewell to a several-years-long habit, ending a chapter in his young life with little warning and absolutely no fanfare.

Part of me embraced this step toward independence. And then there was my heart, which crumbled just a little bit.

Letting go is often as hard for us as parents as it is for our children. We want them to stay little, yet we know we need to encourage their inevitable separation from us. While we don’t want to push them out of the nest before they even begin preschool, we can foster independence, build self-confidence and teach resilience. Building these skills will help them face the changes and challenges that are inevitable in the years ahead.

Give him some responsibility.

Assign a simple chore to your preschooler, such as feeding the dog or setting out plates on the table. Giving your child an easy, regular task can help build confidence and make him feel he contributes to the family. It should be a real task, however, and not just busywork, because preschoolers can usually tell the difference. Accomplishing regular tasks can help her develop an “I can do it” attitude when it comes to getting dressed or pouring crackers into a bowl.

Let it be.

We’ve all been there. Striped shirt with plaid shorts. Funky hairdos. “Made” bed with comforter and sheets askew. Resist the urge to “fix” what your child has accomplished unless it’s absolutely necessary. Compliment her unique sense of style and let the lumpy bed lie. Redoing what she has already done could discourage her from trying something new in the future.

Resist the urge to do what she can do for herself.

Maybe it’s quicker if you do it, but it won’t help your child become more self-sufficient. If letting her make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich means a little extra clean-up, so be it. With time and practice, she’ll probably develop the confidence to make sandwiches for the whole family.

Validate his feelings.

By saying, “I see you are nervous to go on the field with your soccer team. What do you think could happen?” you validate his feelings and help him develop emotional awareness. Ultimately, he will feel confident in making decisions, giving him the tools he needs to live a more independent, responsible and adventurous life.

Take her lead.

Rather than get annoyed that your daughter is clinging to you at dance class, let her sit with you until she feels comfortable. Pushing her creates a battle of wills. Instead, give her time and space to adjust to the idea of doing something new – even if it doesn’t happen the first lesson. When the time is right and she is comfortable, she’ll have confidence to give it a try.

Have great expectations.

It is often said that children will do what is expected of them. At school, your child is expected to put her own straw in her juice box, clean up her snack and put away her crayons. Have the same expectations at home. Your child will reach for the bar however high – or low – you set it.

Perhaps Dr. Jonas Salk, an American medical researcher who discovered the polio vaccine, said it best: “Good parents give their children roots and wings – roots to know where home is and wings to fly off and practice what has been taught them.”

Sometimes being a wing-maker is hard.


Help Your Child Become More Independent Helping a Toddler Ease Into Independence How to Let Go and Not Overparent

Karen Nerney has been a communications specialist with Capital Region BOCES since 2011. She is a sometimes reluctant wing-maker to two teenage daughters, ages 18 and 16, and a son, 9.

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