Lately, I’ve been rather frustrated with my children. I’ve chased them, nagged them, reminded them, and corrected them about doing their chores. I’ve found jobs half-finished, done poorly or not done altogether. And it’s been driving me crazy.
We all want our kids to be independent. We want them to do things for themselves, to grow and succeed. After all, we don’t want them wearing diapers in college. So from the moment they are born, you begin to help your kids become independent.
What is independence?
Independence, at its core, is the ability to live your life without help or influence. For parents, this helping your kids become independent means making sure your kids can survive on their own, without requiring help to manage the daily tasks of life.
There are two parts to independence: capability and confidence.
Capability means having the skills and access to do something. Confidence means knowing that you can do it on your own. Both are key ingredients to being independent.
How do you help your kids become independent?
There are four parts to a parent’s role in their kids’ independence: teaching, training, coaching and empowering. It’s a parent’s job to give your kids the skills they need to be independent. They need to have time and opportunity to practice those skills, while still staying safe. And they need feedback to improve and gain confidence in their capabilities. And finally, the most important piece? They need to have the responsibility placed on them.
Teach independence by giving kids skills
You help your kids become independent by giving them the skills they need to succeed. Whether these skills are the basic life skills of cooking, cleaning, and doing taxes, or the soft skills of communication, empathy and kindness, parents need to actively teach their children.
Sometimes we try to expect our kids to just “know” how to do something. When I investigated the reasons for the half-done chores, I realized that part of the reason was because my kids simply didn’t know how to do the chore I was asking them to do! I had forgotten that I needed to teach them what to do to finish the chore.
Kids can’t become independent without the skills they need. But just having the skills isn’t enough.
Train independence by giving them opportunity to practice their skills.
Part of that training means having frequent, regular opportunities to try out their skills. Just like playing a sport or learning an instrument, independence skills need to be practiced too.
So in my frustration with my kids’ chore performance, I gave them some extra opportunities to practice their skills. And I let them know that if they needed more practice — because the job wasn’t done, or wasn’t done correctly — they could have all the practice time they needed.
Sometimes a little repetition can help in training!
Coach independence by following up and giving them feedback on how they did — and how to improve.
We help our kids become independent by coaching them on how they did. This doesn’t mean just telling them what they did right, or focusing on what they did wrong, but a balance of both. Constructive criticism can help — if you do it the right way.
When I followed up with my kids on their chores, I first thanked them for doing the jobs. I shared just how much it helped me and how proud I was of their work. After all, hard work, even if the end result isn’t quite perfect, should be rewarded.
Then I gently showed them things they missed. For example, I pointed out where my daughter missed some crumbs after she’d swept the floor, which she missed because she tried to sweep under chairs rather than moving them. I asked her how she thought she might be able to do that better next time, and let her come up with the obvious solution.
Follow up is key to helping your kids become independent.
They need to know if they did a good job. Hearing that they met expectations is huge. It helps so much with building their confidence.
And getting feedback on where and how to improve will also help with confidence, oddly enough, if you provide that feedback correctly. You don’t want to make it personal, but rather, make it very specific.
By brainstorming solutions together, you give them another life skill — being able to see a problem and fix it on their own without feeling ashamed. And you help them take that initiative and ownership over their jobs. Those opportunities all help your kids become independent.
Empower independence by giving them responsibility.
As parents, you have to help your kids become independent by giving them a chance to prove it. They have to try out their skills for themselves, without the pressure of you watching them or commenting on their practice.
For me, this meant that I had to leave the room while my kids were doing their chores. I couldn’t stay, because they would then be constantly asking “What’s next?” or relying on me to remind and redirect them back to their job. By leaving, I left the expectation that it was their responsibility.
This is where it really comes down to it, and this is sometimes the hardest part of parenting.
Kids can’t become independent until you let go.
As part of my empowering my girls to do their jobs, I provided clear instructions and standards for them to meet. I gave them the tools they needed. Then I left them to do it.
Kids become independent when they have the skills, opportunity, feedback and confidence to do it. It’s my job as a parent to teach, train, coach and empower them to independence. It’s hard at times, and sometimes incredibly frustrating. But it’s so worth it. And having independent kids is much better than having a perfectly cleaned house!