The 6 Most Important Tips for Teaching Your Kids How to Be Self-Sufficient
When it comes to raising children to be independent, what’s most important?
-April Daniels Hussar
A topic I covered recently (our most dreaded household chores and how to make them not so dreadful), got me thinking about kids — not just about how to enlist them into helping with housework (mwahahaha), but of how our child’s role in the home can really affect his or her own sense of self sufficiency. And THAT got me thinking about the bigger notion of instilling a sense of being able to rely on oneself in our kids — how can we, as parents, make sure we’re doing that?
“Does my kid feel capable – not just in the family unit, but out in the world?” That’s how my friend Madeleine St Jacques, a parenting coach and mom to Lola, age 10, describes self-sufficiency, and I think it’s a great definition. How can we make sure that we raise our kids to be able to head into the world, if not completely fearlessly, then at least confidently? I put the question to my own network, and here are the six things that came up again and again:
1. Let children make mistakes!
My friend Geri, a mom of two in Connecticut, says: “Letting kids do things themselves and allowing them to make mistakes is key in teaching them to be more self sufficient,” she says. Geri addsthat in the art class she takes with her toddler son, “It is funny to see how moms take over the projects for their kids instead of allowing them to make a mess.”
My friend Jodi agrees — they key, she feels, is “giving them enough rope to make a mistake without hanging themselves but still feeling the consequences.” This is especially true with school work, she says. “As of third grade I have little to no involvement with school work and assignments,” she says of her two daughters (one is in fourth grade, the other in middle school). “They have both had no issues and done very well. They know they are responsible for their work!”
2. Give kids chores and responsibilities around the house.
So many people I talked with agreed this is one of the most important aspects to raising a self-sufficient person.
But it’s important to make sure you…
3. Set kids up for success with those responsibilities.
When it comes to helping keep the house tidy, tasks that we’ve done as adults for a zillion years seem straightforward, but a kid might not feel that way. If your child is easily overwhelmed, Madeleine says, “Breaking down tasks — even ones we think aren’t such a big deal — into small steps has been key for us.” So if a bedroom has gotten out of control, it’s easier to tell your kid to “clean it up” if you help her brainstorm the steps that need to go into achieving a tidy room: Pick up all the clothes off the floor, then sort the clothes into dirty and clean, then pick up the books and toys, etc…
Daily or weekly chores can be made more manageable with the right tools. For example, if you want to start getting an older child to help you with the laundry, those single-use detergent pods are a great way to take the mess and stress out of measuring the soap.
4. Respect who they are and what they do.
Not all kids are the same. Denise D’Ecclessis is the founder of the Love for Autism Facebook community She shares that she takes a different approach with her two boys, Angelo, 19, and Vincent, 13, who is on the autism spectrum. “I have learned about Vincent through the years that he is capable of more than he lets on to be – of course being a non-verbal child, he is not going to tell me,” she says, adding that she has to take a more relaxed approach with him, and “expect mistakes but be consistent.” Her older son Angelo has been more independent for a long time: “He had to grow up pretty quick, being the sibling of a special needs brother; he learned early on to be self-sufficient.”
But with both of her boys, Denise says, teaching independence starts with respect. “Your children have to respect you and themselves in order to see a purpose in independence,” she says, adding that rewarding positive behavior is also important. “They have to feel like they play an important role in the family and that they are appreciated for all their contributions,” she says.