Independence Day

You once did everything for your child, but now that he’s growing up, it does not mean you should. Here’s how you can achieve the right balance of freedom for the independent children.

WORDS CHRISTEL GERALYN GOMES

One of your biggest goals as a parent is to raise your children to become independent, self-reliant people. But as someone who will never forget the first time you held your tiny, helpless bub in your arms, the natural urge to protect him will always be strong. The initial years of doing absolutely everything for our children easily conditions us to become used to having our lives revolve around them, and the first steps towards loosening the strings can be hard.

Too Much or Too Little?

How much freedom to give children as they grow is a constant source of frustration, confusion and anxiety for most (or all) parents. There is no right or wrong answer, and you are not alone if you feel this way. There are many who constantly worry about their children’s safety (which is absolutely natural) and feel almost panicked at the thought of leaving them alone, anywhere.

The key is to educate yourself on how your style of parenting will affect your child, know that over-control can stymie his development, and then find a balance that works for you and your family. Every parent walks the tightrope between wanting their child to become competent and confident in doing things for himself, knowing the world can be a scary place, and being unsure of whether he’s ready to come out from behind your wing.

What we want in the end is for them to become people who can make sensible, wise choices when you’re not there, with calm, confidence and a sense of ownership over their decisions. Of course, whether or not your child ends up developing this sort of self-assurance has a lot to do with your approach to parenting.

So what’s the right balance?

This is subjective and very much dependent on the maturity and confidence your child already has, and also what he is naturally ready to do. If he’s asking you to let him do it, chances are he’s ready. But are you? Much of your hesitation could be due to your own fears. Here are a few tips on easing yourself into it:

  1. Grant Independence in Stages

You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) release the reins at once. A better bet is to ease both you and your child into it, slowly, but always progressively. Building self-confidence in your child can begin as early as you like. When a baby learns to hold his own bottle or a kid learns to write his first letter, they start to understand – "I can!" Every milestone brings new joy at their newfound level of independence.

Your job is to give them opportunities to do things, instead of doing it for them. Have your kids learn to dress and pack for school all by themselves, right down to those tricky shoelaces. Later, trust them to learn how to take the bus instead of picking them up (even if you can). When they’ve proven themselves responsible, they get to handle money and make shopping decisions, even if it is how to pick out stationary with a fixed amount of money.

  1. Health and Safety First

Give your child room to make choices and decisions that affect him, but this comes with limits and you get to veto activities that affect his health or safety. For example, a nine year old might be allowed to take public transport on his own in the day but not at night. A five year old might get to choose whether or not to hold your hand while crossing the road, but she is never allowed to cross the road on her own. As long as the child has some kind of choice, it is likely they will feel more grown-up, and act like it too!

  1. Actions have Consequences

Test the waters slowly. Your child wants a new freedom. You’re not so sure if he’s ready. A good rule of thumb is to establish the boundaries of that freedom and state clearly that any misuse of it means it gets taken away. When your child understands that every freedom comes with a responsibility not to abuse it attached, he learns very quickly to keep himself in check and will value independence that has been worked for.

What you allow (or not) and when you do it is of course, entirely your call and you should never jump into independence before you child is ready. But managing your own fears is important. Always remember that this is fantastic practice for when you might not be able to be around for your precious one and he needs to make decisions on his own. Then, instead of feeling lost, stressed or breaking down, he will have the grace and confidence to exist autonomously with ease and confidence, which of course, will translate into a healthy, self-assured adulthood. 

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