Teaching Kids Independence

// January 23rd, 2013 // Uncategorized

      {It’s important to note ~ before they can learn independence our kids need to know they can totally depend on us for everything. I don’t believe that you spoil babies by picking them up when they cry. How else is Baby to ask, “Hey, can we hang out for a while?” or tell you, “I feel crummy and there’s nothing you can do about it!” Independence comes after dependence has been fulfilled.}

The number one job in parenting is to put yourself out of a job. To do that, we have to teach our kids to be independent. It comes naturally when it’s a part of daily life.

Before they can even point, you can start offering choices. At first, you’ll be guiding the decisions. An infant can’t tell you whether a blue or white Onesie would be better today. But it’s fun to ask. Around seven months, you can ask, “Do you want to play with the ball or the blocks?” Wait a moment. Baby might look at the ball. “Okay! Let’s play with the ball!” As they grow, we can offer so many choices in the course of the day. Red cup or blue cup? Sandwich or pasta for lunch? Nap now, or in five minutes? {Sometimes the choice—even for adults— isn’t if, but when.}

My preschoolers and I went to our local library for weekly story and craft times. There I saw mommies suspended over youngsters, telling them how to make a pretty picture. “Put the cotton ball right here.” She guides the little hand into position. “Nice. Isn’t that beautiful?” Those mommies went home with far prettier cards and pictures than I ever did. But when kids make their own art, they feel good about their creations, and themselves. At times, they asked for help and got it. {It took a while to master the scissors.} They were making choices while pasting sequins on the wrong side of the paper.

As early as three, when eating at a fast food place, if our kids wanted more catsup, they had to go ask for it. I shadowed each new adventurer to the counter. If the cashier looked at me, I pointed down to the kid. “May I have more catsup, please?” taught them that it’s okay to ask. {I taught them “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Careful, though. That one can bite you in the foot when they become debating teens.}

When it was time to start a chore chart, I used a cork-board and thumb tacks. {I knew I’d never get around to making new copies of the charts and there’d go the system.} Each time they did all of their chores without reminders, they got a happy tack—a bonus tack with a cute design on the tack head. We also awarded happy tacks for good attitudes, helpfulness, and positive messages from their teachers. For each happy tack, they chose a treat or small toy from the Happy Tack Drawer. Or they saved them up to earn special treats, like a trip (alone) with Mom or Dad to get an ice cream cone.

When our first three kids were going to public school, I’d remind them to load their backpacks, but after about third or fourth grade if they forgot lunch or homework, they had to explain to the teacher. One forgotten lunch was enough to make them remember to double check. Homework usually made it, too. (The only exception to this rule was medication. Sometimes the morning got chaotic and Steve forgot his insulin. That I’d take to the school for him.)

In 7thgrade, Steve (#1 child) came home from school one Friday with a special homework assignment. Do a load of laundry. I thought ~ if he can do one load, he can do his own laundry from now on. I taught him the machines and doses of detergent, and he ran with it. He liked being in charge of his own clothes because frankly, I wasn’t good at getting the laundry from the baskets to the drawers. This homework assignment started the family tradition of becoming responsible for your own laundry when you turn twelve. Now, if you’re out of underwear, you have only yourself to blame. And there’s no excuse to bring dirty clothes from college or your apartment for Mom to do. They could use my machine, but not my labor.

My kids have always been part of my kitchen so moving up to planning meals wasn’t a big step, though they still had a lot to learn. By age eight, they could read labels. {“Mom, can we get this cereal?” “Read the label.”} By fifteen, they could plan a menu and grocery list, shop for the ingredients, and make a family meal.

Our last two kids had something different from the first three. I got tired of hearing, “Mom, I need new pants.” Or movie tickets. Or…fill in the blank. Every parent knows the drill. It’s exhausting. A friend loaned me “Debt Proof Your Kids” and, with a little personalization, we found peace. When she was sixteen, Jae and I tallied the cost of her clothing (compromising between her designer-wear taste and my Target specials), certain outings, gifts to buy (that we would usually provide), and personal items needed for a year, divided the total by twelve, and I gave her that much cash every month. These were the items we considered our parental responsibilities. She had a job to pay for her car insurance {no license if you can’t pay the insurance}, and her “wants.” There were only a few months she didn’t have enough to cover an expense. For that, she looked elsewhere. There were no advances on the next month’s stipend. She learned fast, as did Robyn when her time came. {AND, we didn’t pay their traffic fines. Just sayin’.}

By 18, when they can legally step out into the world, they should already have many important mistakes under their belts and a little wisdom in their heads.
 But, there’s an irony of putting yourself out of a job. When our kids became independent, they also became friends. We didn’t push them away with these skills—we drew their hearts closer.

2 Responses to “Teaching Kids Independence”

  1. J. Ketchum says:

    Good read mom Deb! Love ya!

  2. Debbie Haas says:

    Thanks, J! Appreciate the love 🙂

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