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Helping Your Child Become Independent

Children given independence without responsibility are a lot like milk without refrigeration. They both quickly spoil. The role parents play in their children's transition from dependence to independence is critically important for developing the tools of self-reliance, confidence, and resourcefulness they will need to become happy and successful adults.

Overly controlling parents stifle opportunities to make choices and stunt their children's growth toward independence. Other parents grant freedoms with no regard to responsible behavior, rescue their kids from bad choices without insisting on accountability, and routinely give children whatever they ask for without insisting it be earned. Parents who encourage and support their children in making choices and meeting new challenges, however, enhance their child's ability to do so successfully.

5 parenting tips to help your kids be more independent and responsible:

  • Guide, don't control. As they grow older, children need opportunities for new roles and experiences and need to learn that choices have consequences. But, they also need guidance so they won't make too many bad choices. Be a good listener and ask questions that help your child think about the consequences their choices might have.
  • Provide reasonable choices. Giving choices helps children accept guidance. For example, you might tell your son his homework needs to be done before bedtime, but offer the choice of completing it before or after supper.
  • Let kids make mistakes. Children won't learn to solve problems unless they have problems to solve. Problem solving is an ability critical to becoming independent. It may be hard, but parents need to let their children occasionally fail, providing the stakes are not too high and safety and health issues aren't involved. Failure helps kids develop another critical skill as well: the ability to bounce back.
  • Sometimes, just say no. Your child may have a growing sense of the future but may still lack the experience to understand how decisions can have long-term consequences. Make it clear that for some issues there are no choices.
  • Be clear on expectations and consequences. Don't tell your child you want his or her room clean. Your child's concept of clean is likely different than yours. Spell it out. If you say to be home by 10, make sure he knows that means he needs to be in the house and not just on the way.

Try to look beyond the surface of how your teen might be expressing his independence to who he is becoming. Guide him along with way, set good examples, and build trust between you.