Encouraging Independence through Responsibility.
We’ve all heard the term ‘helicopter parent’ and parents are secretly wondering if it applies to them. As a teacher, and nanny, I have seen my fair share of them! While they are always well intentioned, the damage it is causing for their child’s future is much more of a concern than whether they will feel hurt after getting a bad grade or losing a hockey game. According to some University administrators and employers, there has been a rise of parents becoming involved in their adult children’s school and work careers. One of the latest scandals in Hollywood involving celebrity parents bribing their kids’ way into grad school has parents questioning their behaviour surrounding this issue, and wondering how to break their habits to encourage independence in their children. Breaking habits takes time and so does teaching independence through responsibility. It will take more than a day, and will test both your patience and parental anxieties.
When your children are infants and toddlers they are obviously more dependent both physically and emotionally, but as they get older you need to give them opportunities to be independent. This starts with small responsibilities and leads to bigger ones as they grow up. From the feedback I have heard, parents can find it difficult to know when and where to start with this. Here is some guidance on recommended ages and tasks based on my own experience and research.
In my experience you can start with children as young as two, depending on your child’s abilities. The simplest thing is to request for them to tidy up after themselves, which can be done collaboratively. I also suggest putting pictures of the things that go where, such as on baskets or drawers, to assist them with this task just like in my own classroom. The more you do it, the more it will become habit for them and they will (hopefully!) begin to do it on their own. Although it may seem easier to just do it yourself the right way, it will help your child more than you know in the future. Plus, their teacher will love both of you immediately for it! Children love to be ‘helpers’, and according to PBS calling them this will make them more responsive to tasks and prompting them with songs or fun names for things can motivate them too. By age 2.5-3 you can begin to teach them how to put on their own clothes, jackets, and shoes with some assistance. Again, this takes a lot of patience, but is totally worth it! When children start school you should let them be responsible for carrying their own bags and maybe even packing them. Give your child a checklist if you think they need some help with remembering things. This is also an age where they can start helping with chores around the house such as setting the table, helping with care of the family pet, cleaning their room, putting laundry away, helping with dishes, and getting ready for bed or school on their own (with some supervision of course!). These chores can continue and become more elaborate as children get older.
A good age to allow children to walk independently to and from school, the bus stop, a friend’s house, or an activity group is around 9-10. This depends on distance, route safety, time of day, and your child’s comfort level. For uneasy parents you can start by arranging for them to walk with an older student in the same neighbourhood, or them walking one way, and you driving on the other end. The important thing is to let your children feel like you trust them, but also letting them know you are there if they need you. If your children trust you then they will tell you where they’re going, who with and what they’re doing, which will pay off in tenfold when they become teenagers.
The last thing I want to leave you with is don’t forget to praise your children for their efforts too! Although try not to focus on the achieved task, but more on the skills or abilities used to complete it such as, “I’m so proud of how you kept trying to do up your zipper even though it was a bit tricky. See how you got it zipped up in the end?!” This lets your child feel like they have control over their actions and abilities to believe in themselves, which is a big part of being an independent human. It’s a tough world out there but it will be made much easier to handle with the independence you have instilled in them. So stop being a ‘helicopter’ and let your babies fly!
– Article by Meghan Keeley. Get to know her below.
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Get to know the author.
Hi, my name is Meghan Keeley and I’ve been gaining a lot of experience working with children ever since I was old enough to babysit! I’ve worked in camps, daycare, as a nanny, and as a teacher. I also studied psychology in my undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph. I’ve had a unique journey to teaching by working in the field, and then finally deciding to go to teacher’s college in New Zealand. After graduating from that programme, I was offered a teaching job in London, England and was lucky enough to teach there for two fantastic years! Through all of my experiences, and with a background in psychology, I have become very compassionate about children’s mental health and those with special needs – especially when it comes to education. I hope to continue to support families in a holistic way starting with education. As the Kiwis teach, ‘education is about the whole whanau (family)’. I am happy to share my opinions and international experience to help others. Thanks for reading!