4 Questions of “When” for Childhood Independence

We all want our children to grow into mature, independent adults. In fact, children benefit when their parents encourage independence. Whether doing significant chores in the home, in the yard, or in the community, children grow more confident and competent when they engage in independent, meaningful tasks. (Read Chores: The Gift of Significance for more.) But, how can a parent know which tasks their child can complete on their own? And how can a parent move their children toward greater independence in general? Perhaps answering a few questions can help parents find the answers to these questions.

First, is your child developmentally ready for this task? If they do not have the developmental ability to do the task, do not expect them to do it. Make sure any task you ask of your child is developmentally appropriate for them. Asking a child to do a task for which they are not developmentally ready to do dishonors them. It will only create self-doubt and frustration in your child that will interfere with their learning and later independence. If they are not developmentally prepared and able to do a task, do it for them.

Second, does your child know how to do the task on their own already? Is it a task they know how to do and have the ability to do? If so, ask them to do it. For instance, if they can tie their shoes, let them. Of course, the examples will change as the child grows older. Can they sweep the floor, do some laundry, make a bed? Let them do it.

Third, if your child cannot do the task on their own ask yourself, “Can they do part of the task?” Perhaps they cannot cook dinner, but they can cut up vegetables. Maybe they cannot run the lawn mower, but they can pull weeds in the flower garden. Even if they cannot wash clothes, they might have the ability and knowledge to fold the clean clothes. Whatever part of an overall task they have the ability to do, encourage them to help with that part.

Finally, if your child cannot do the task on their own already, ask: can they do it with simple instructions or help? If so, do it with them. As you complete the task with your child, you can teach them how to do it independently. Let your child help with the laundry, setting the table, preparing meals, cleaning the house, doing yardwork…. As you work together, you can teach them how to do the task well and prepare them for doing it independently when necessary. As an added bonus you get to talk and build your relationship with your child while you work together.

We all want our children to grow into independent adults. They can only do so if we begin to teach them while they are home. These four questions can help you teach your children to become more independent at a pace appropriate to their developmental abilities. (For more on how meaningful tasks benefit children while moving them toward independence, read Dear Children, The Real Reason I Make You Do Chores.)

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