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How to Encourage Independence – and why you should.

From the moment they can crawl, they start to explore. We remain their “safe base” in psychology speak. We are the place they return, the place they look back to for reinforcement and reassurance. 

At the end of the slide, under of the monkey bars, on the sideline, from the audience, we encourage and cheer as they take big and little steps, scary steps sometimes that end up being No Big Deal steps. 

It is part of growing up. And we plant the seeds of confidence with each little “yes, you can do it”. We water the seeds with our encouragement “you’ve got this”. 

This summer saw big milestones for me: first time one child flew alone, first time another child traveled internationally alone, first time two children went on a road trip together (and one drove 8 hours). And they were all ready for it. They were ready for the rerouted planes & delayed flights & missed connections. As Ella said “Mom, I can read so I just figured it out”.

And she did.

They all did.

And yes reading helped, but equally important was the self-confidence that they could do it. 

Let your kids grow. Help your kids grow. Encourage them to take those scary first steps and try out for the team or club or activity this year. Encourage them to try something new, to shake things up, to set goals and dream big. Then be their safe base to which they want to return full of stories. 

Parenting is a process of helping a child grow into themselves every day, in the big moments and the little moments. We do this when we encourage (or demand) they do the hard things. Sometimes they like it, like in my examples, other times they don’t. Sometimes it is hard for them, other times it is harder for us.

When they are little, help them set goals, hold them accountable to the agreements and commitments they have made, and keep them out of inertia.

Inertia can be comfortable and it is hard to break – it is even harder to break when the parent encourages it. Giving older teens endless amounts of space and time to wander aimlessly is not helpful. They aren’t little children. If you have a teen or tween who lacks independence or self-confidence, the first step is to just get them moving- even when it makes them or you uncomfortable.

Too often I think kids and young adults fail to act or grow because they are scared of failure. Giving them confidence of your love irrespective of success or failure in their endeavors helps combat that. They can adjust their direction once they are on the road. Encourage them to try out for that team, join that club, audition for that part, run for that office- just try it. The growth is in the attempt.

You can also challenge them to do little things on their own. Give them a list and send them to the grocery. Let them go into that dentist appointment alone. Have them fill out their own paperwork at the doctor’s office or for school or sports registrations (definitely double check that work though!). Let them pack their own school lunches or sports bags.

They will never learn to do things if we don’t first require it.

Then celebrate the efforts they give rather than only the more measurable outcomes (which are often rewarding in themselves).

Things don’t always work out. That international trip got a bit crazy when storms required flights to be re-routed and connections were missed. The domestic flight got delayed and she arrived at a different terminal. Things go array-but they figure it out and they feel great about their accomplishment.

Is there something new you can support or encourage your child to do this year?