The following article was adapted from the session by Mrs Abimbola Onwuchekwa during the Parenting Summit, 2021.
You have made a promise that is impossible to fulfil. You told your child that you will always be there for her when in reality it is impossible to always be there.
Whether we like it or not, kids must attain a level of independence where they are given the responsibility for some parts of their life. In fact, it is a required aspect of the child’s development.
Why does a child need to be independent?
An independent child is not a child that doesn’t need any support from the parent, it is the child who can take personal, family, and social responsibilities, and use initiative to solve them.
This child has the ability to be aware of things he or she can do in the home to support the progress of the family, without relying too much on the parents. This, in turn, gives the parents room to operate as supervisors rather than micro-managers.
Children who do not develop a certain level of independence during childhood and adolescence grow up to have a myriad of social relationship problems. The effects include the following:
- These children are more clingy to parents and/or friends
- They do not go out of their comfort zones
- They tend to take up responsibilities slower than their peers, etc.
On the other hand, an independent child is more skilled and can assume the role of the leader even without the parents. This makes the child more suited for life and successful social relationships.
What can you do to make your child independent?
1. Give them tasks to do
The best way to nurture independence in kids is to help them become responsible, and the best way to help them become responsible is to give them tasks to do.
Telling your child to “be responsible!” will not get the job done. You must put them in positions where they will have to take up responsibility for certain things in the home.
These tasks may include house chores like washing the plates, assisting in the kitchen, cleaning their rooms, waking up themselves, doing their laundries themselves, etc.
2. Nurture their Zone of Proximal Development
The zone of proximal development is the region between what a child cannot do unaided and what they can do without any help. It represents the activities that they can only do when there is support or guidance.
While it is true that giving children tasks will help them become independent, you must also be careful not to only give them simple tasks. This also doesn’t mean you should assign impossible missions to your child.
Rather, you should strive to find tasks that are just above their abilities, but not too far off, and then provide the support they need. This will help them expand their capacities quickly.
An example of this is asking your 7-year-old to clean a portion of the house, and staying there to guide him.
3. Give them autonomy
When your child is able to do certain things, give them complete autonomy over that thing. Micro-managing the cleaning task of a 15-year-old who already knows how to sweep will only lead to rebellion.
Of course, there are times when you just have to make sure they do it right. Apart from these unique situations, you should give your child the freedom to do the tasks he or she already knows how to do.
4. Teach them financial intelligence
When your child becomes a teenager, you should co-create a spending rule with them. An important part of making your child independent is to teach them how to spend money effectively.
A good way to do this is to provide a fixed amount of money (pocket money) for a stipulated time period. This should come after you’ve discussed with the child the need to be financially intelligent and not just spend money without caution.
This rule should also be strictly enforced – no extra amount should be given if the child spends more than the allotted amount. Although this may seem a bit cruel, it is one of the most potent ways to teach your child how to be independent.
NOTE: Choosing a large sum of money will defeat the aim of this step. Sit with your child, calculate the essential expenses, delete the unessential ones, and add a small amount for fun. You should end up with a reasonable amount of money that’s neither too large or too small.
No parent can be there for children always. It is important that we nurture children who will not have to depend on parents for every single thing. Helping your child become independent is the first step in ensuring a bright future for your child.