7 tips that encourage your child to become more independent doing chores, completeing homework, practicing critical thinking, and making good choices.
“I’m wearing dirty pants today because I need to do laundry,” my daughter announces as she comes into the kitchen for breakfast.
I wait a beat.
“I’ll do it after school,” she adds, pouring a bowl of cereal.
My kids start doing their own laundry around age 5. We worked together to pull the underwear out of the pants and turn them right-side-out. We measured the laundry soap together. They referred to a note taped to the front of the washer to choose the right cycle.
Once the laundry is clean, it’s their job to fold it and put it away.
Does this mean they do it right away? No. Does this mean I often have to ignore piles of dirty laundry in their room while the clean laundry sits in a basket nearby? Yes.
It also means I avoid panicked, finger-pointing accusations when someone is out of clean pants.
And, I know my kids are capable of washing, stain-removing, drying, and folding their own laundry. It’s one task checked off the “list of things I’d like them to know by the time they are adults.”
But independence means much more than completing chores.
We want our kids to know how to make good choices, think critically, and be able to overcome challenges – regardless of what comes their way.
We want our kids to be proud of their accomplishments, not because it makes us happy, but because they get to experience the internal reward of a task completed well.
Whether your kids are reaching a new stage of independence or you’re starting from the beginning, here are 7 tips that may help.
7 Tips to Raise Independent Kids
Ask questions. Put your great ideas and solutions aside and shift the responsibility to your child. Ask: “What comes next?” What are we missing? What is your plan for…? If needed, help them make a list to refer to or teach them how to use a timer to keep themselves on task. Make space for thinking, pause, take a deep breath, resist the urge to jump in with the answer too quickly.
Give a challenge. Use age/developmental lists of chores as a guide, not a limit. You know your kids best, you know their strength areas and places they may need more support. Kids are often more capable than we give them credit for, so be careful not to skip things that are difficult initially. Working hard to master a new skill is where the growth happens!
Scaffold. Break things down into smaller pieces, teaching one part before moving on to the next. Think of it as a ladder, the top is the completed task, but each rung is a skill needed to get to the top. Start with one part, model the behavior you’d like to see, practice together, then add on once your child feels ready to complete it on their own.
Celebrate progress, not perfection. Nit-picking, criticizing, and judging discourage independence. Remember to watch your nice to nag ratio. Your child is not going to do things perfectly. And, they are not always going to do things the way you do. This is OK! Notice things they do well, point out areas of growth and grit, and encourage them as they try new things.
Empathize with the struggle. No one likes to take out the trash, complete homework, or walk the dog. Rather than using logic or reasoning to force compliance, focus on joining your child in the big feelings. Sometimes, we just need to know that we are not alone. Sometimes, we just need to know that someone understands that this particular task is irritating or boring.
Problem-solve together. Use mistakes, failures, or challenges as an opportunity to brainstorm together. Rather than jumping in with a solution, slow down. Ask your child if they have any ideas, considering them with equal weight. Help your child practice critical thinking skills by exploring the pros and cons of each solution before picking one to try.
Trust. Have confidence that your child is capable. Resist the urge to jump in at the first sign of a struggle. Send a firm message: “I know you can do it!” Then, step back and let them show you. If things don’t go well, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, ask another question, “Do you need help or do you want to figure it out on your own?” Or, go back to brainstorming together.
Coming alongside our kids shows that we are on their team. It lets them know that they can trust us to guide them and that we respect them as individuals.
It reminds them that we are there to support them, not to criticize or judge.
I know it’s not easy to step back and watch as your child burns their grilled cheese or to see a stack of poorly folded towels. I know it’s difficult to see a child struggle with a new task without swooping in to rescue them.
It’s OK for this to be a learning process for both of you. And it’s OK for there to be a feeling of grief that comes from a child getting older and not needing you in the same way they did when they were young.
Lean into the discomfort, rather than avoiding it.
And then, celebrate the day your child demonstrates their independence in a way you never thought possible. Smile as you remember the work it took to get there and the love and support you gave them along the way.