How to foster independence in children

Little boy holding milk jug for corn flakes with milk during breakfast at home

As a parent, you often may feel like a superhuman circus act as you help bathe, dress, feed, teach, console, and do a multitude of additional tasks for children who seem to have an endless supply of needs. You may feel exhausted by all of the demands, but it also can be rewarding to feel needed. “They only are so small for so long,” you may think, “so I’ll just do this for now.”

Hold that thought for a moment. Remember that one of your roles as a parent is to prepare your child for an independent, self-sufficient life. If you find that you often step in quickly to help, you may inadvertently communicate that your child is helpless and incapable. How can you strike a balance between nurturing and fostering independence by facilitating competence and confidence?

Provide opportunities to feel like a “big kid”

Here are some strategies to guide you.

Remember how good it felt to be able to do something yourself, what the “big kids” were doing? Create opportunities for your children to feel the same way and learn that they are just as capable as the big kids. By practicing skills, your child will know how to be a big kid when the time arrives. For example:

  • Have your child practice picking out his own clothes, preparing her own snack, ordering for himself, or asking a store employee a question she may have: “Excuse me, when will you get more Legos in your store, please?”
  • If you have a neighbor with a child younger than yours, perhaps your child can be a “mommy’s or daddy’s helper.” This would involve helping to watch or play with your neighbor’s child while a parent is at home taking care of other activities like cooking dinner.
  • Depending on where you live, some children may be able to walk to a friend’s house.
  • If your child does not know the answer to something — like the definition of a word — suggest that he look it up.

Establish a chore chart

Giving children opportunities to establish mastery by engaging them in chores encourages them to believe that they are capable and helpful. Doing this gradually teaches children how to take care of themselves without feeling abandoned. Select around three behaviors to have a child practice each day. These behaviors can shift over time to match your child’s developmental stage.

You can establish a chore chart by age 2. Although that may sound early, it is important to start as soon as possible so that children establish self-confidence from the get-go. A toddler can practice putting toys away, a 4-year-old can help feed pets, and a 6-year-old can put laundry away. The American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry has many other age-appropriate suggestions for chores.

Have children earn an allowance

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, linking allowance to chores can create opportunities for children to learn how to manage money. Select chores that serve the household, rather than only the children — for example, unloading the dishwasher instead of self-care activities. That way, money is earned for helping the greater community and not just oneself.

You can start with a very small amount of change that a child can earn per chore. The amount can increase as a child ages. To help children learn the concepts of saving and planning their spending, they can divide what they earn into three containers: “save,” “spend,” and “give.” The “save” container helps children practice saving for the future. The “spend” container allows them to decide whether that toy in the toy store is worth hard-earned money. Perhaps a toy that costs more money is worth the wait. The “give” container can help foster the gesture of spending some of what one earns on others, such as siblings or charitable organizations.

Children do grow up quickly. Yet you still can savor the moments while also preparing children for the future.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

1 Corinthians 3:1-2 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able

,1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

1 Corinthians 14:20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.

Psalm 65:9 You visit the earth and cause it to overflow; You greatly enrich it; The stream of God is full of water; You prepare their grain, for thus You prepare the earth.

2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;

Proverbs 1:5 A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,

Acts 12:24 But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.

Proverbs 11:24 There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.

Ezekiel 8:6 And He said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations which the house of Israel are committing here, so that I would be far from My sanctuary? But yet you will see still greater abominations.”

Ephesians 4:16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

2 Chronicles 7:16 “For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that My name may be there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.

2 Corinthians 9:10 Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness;

Hebrews 5:12-14 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

1 Peter 2:2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,

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