Encouraging Independence

Encouraging Independence

Picture of Meri Wallace
Meri Wallace

Meri Wallace, LCSW, a parenting expert and child and family therapist for over thirty years, grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Meri completed her Masters degree in Social Work at NYU, specializing in child development. Meri writes a blog for “Psychology Today”, and is the author of “Birth Order Blues” (Henry Holt and Co.) and “Keys to Parenting Your Four Year Old” (Barron's Educational Series.) She has been a columnist for Sesame Street Parents, New York Family Magazine,and Brooklyn Parent and has been a consultant to Children’s Television Workshop. She is frequently interviewed by national publications including Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, and Parents Magazine.

An independent child will feel more secure in himself and take more risks

A child feels exhilarated when he experiences his own power and capabilities. If you encourage his independence, he will feel more secure in himself and take more risks as he grows. Here are some ways to achieve this crucial task.

Praise her when she buttons her shirt, even if it is not perfect. When you say, “I like the way you did that all by yourself,” this gives her the message that she is capable. You’re also communicating that being independent is good and acceptable to you and she will want to try more.

If he is having trouble zipping up his jacket, be careful not to criticize him, or jump right in and do it for him. Give him some support and verbal guidance instead. You can say, “It’s hard to zip up a jacket. It takes time to learn how. Why don’t you try again?” Break down the task into its simplest parts, for example, “Try slipping the edge of the jacket into the very bottom of the zipper, then pull it up.” If it’s still hard for him, suggest, “Let’s do it together.”

Give your young child simple jobs to do around the house, such as putting the spoons on the dinner table or filling your birds seed cup. She will feel that you view her as a confident, reliable person.

When your child shows some initiative and wants to try something new, follow his lead, when it is feasible. For example, if he says, “I can lift the laundry basket”, give him a few minutes to try, rather than saying, “Oh no. That’s too heavy for you.” If he cannot do it, tell him, “The basket is very heavy, “Let’s do it together.” If he wants to try a sleepover at Grandma and Grandpa’s, you might agree. The fact that he is asking can be a sign that he is ready.

Offer your child choices throughout the day, for example, “Which one of those shirts would you like to wear?” or “Which cereal should we buy?” Listen to her attentively when she expresses her opinion about what to bring on the family picnic.” All these measures show appreciation of her individuality and will enhance her growth.

Be respectful of your child’s separateness. Statements such as, “ Would you like anything more to eat?” or “I know it is hard for you when I have to wash your hair,” show that you view him as a separate human being, with his own boundaries and feelings.

It is important for every parent to work through his own ambivalence about his child growing up. You may feel excited that your child is growing up, but sad that she is growing away from you. If you signal to her, that is too hard for you, your child might feel guilty and stay by your side.

It is difficult to let go. But it is crucial to give your child the following messages: Go out into the world. It’s safe and you can manage.