8-year old Rohan was due to go to an adventure farm for a 2-night trip with his school. He had only had family sleepovers previously. Over the last few years his mother had taken every opportunity to encourage self-reliance – and at 8 years old he did many tasks for himself.
As the trip approached, she asked him what he might want to take with him, and what he might do there, and how he might feel about being away for three days and two nights. He told her that he was a little bit ‘worried’ but mostly, he assured her, he was excited. “You see, Mummy, I don’t need to be too worried, because I can do lots of things on my own……” he said.
In all the noise and commotion about raising kids today it’s easy to forget that the job description for parents hasn’t changed since the dawn of time. Love them, bond with them, teach them and spend time with them. But also work like mad to develop their “real independence” so they become capable of handling what life will throw their way.
The end game or goal for parents is “Redundancy”. Yep, you read it right. Your job is to make yourself redundant as a parent from your child’s earliest possible age. It always has been and always should be.
When redundancy is your aim most of your time, effort and energy will go into promoting independence. You’ll stop doing things for kids and start giving them opportunities to do things themselves. You’ll spend most of your active parenting time teaching, explaining and prodding your child toward independence.
On a basic level it’s about developing children’s autonomy. Without realising it, many parents make choices on their children’s behalf. Kids build self-confidence when they do things for themselves, and make their own decisions.
Some simple suggestions –
- Independence is built when children spend time in unpredictable circumstances and environments such as park or playground, and also have the opportunity to navigate their neighborhoods on their own. There may be some risk involved but that is where the learning lay. Eliminate the risk and you eliminate the learning.
- Allowing kids to follow their own impulses even if they are different to their own parents is the key to gaining independence. This may mean that children choose healthy interests and pursuits that parents are unfamiliar with, or even swim against the tide of their parents’ wishes.
- Allowing kids to take responsibility and own their own problems, builds confidence and competence. Start by expecting kids to help at home. Look for ways to develop self-help skills and don’t take their problems on as your problems.
- It can be scary and also difficult developing independence in one big step. So smart parents intuitively develop junior versions of independence by breaking up big activities into digestible bits. Want your three year old to make the bed? Then start by arranging the teddies and the pillows as a junior version of making the bed and let them work their way up from there. Similarly, want your five year old to walk to school yet it’s currently out of his skill set? Then accompany him most of the way and let him walk the last 200 meters to school on his own. That’s a junior version of walking to school.
Then you’ll know your job as a parent is done! It doesn’t mean you won’t stop worrying about them……… But it does mean you’ve finished the main task of parenting, that is, to make yourself redundant at the earliest possible age.
Remember, your child does not have to love you every minute. He’ll get over the disappointment of failure but he won’t get over the effects of being spoiled. So let them fail, let them fall, and let them fight for what they really value. If we treat our kids as fragile, they will surely grow up to be fragile adults. We must prepare them for the world that awaits them. Our world needs resilient adults not fragile ones!
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