Nurturing your child’s independent streak
One of the constant complaints I heard from my son Akash’s school teachers was that he did not bring conflicts to the teacher’s attention at all. He handled them by himself. Sounds like a good thing, right? Wrong! It meant that he pushed and hit kids who tried to bully or hurt him. Still sounds fine? Consider the outcome: an Akash-pushing-others complaint rather than an other-kids-troubling-Akash complaint. He became the bad boy in the class. No one saw who started the trouble. They all saw who raised his or her hand first.
I decided to work on channeling Akash’s anger towards productive actions. Meanwhile, his mindset of trying to tackle problems by himself gave me another idea. He turned 8 last year and I started using a parenting approach to foster his independent attitude. So I figured that if he could handle conflicts in school by himself then it would be worthwhile to let him handle getting ready for school and other similar tasks independently.
This is how I started to guide him to carry out small activities on his own. I stopped helping him brush his teeth and told him, “If you can ride a bicycle by yourself, then you can certainly brush by yourself”. Initially there were several tantrums, a lot of emotional blackmail, whining — all this was just for the brushing activity. Slowly his attempts to make me do his work faded away due to my repeated utterances. “You are 8 years old now. Your mind has developed so much that you can brush by yourself”. There were some weak moments when I could do his work to save time and avoid hassles. But slowly and steadily I extended the independent approach to many of the activities that he could do by himself. It was such a relief and joy to see him take up responsibility.
He is 9 years old now and does the following activities all by himself:
- Brushing his teeth in the morning and night
- Bathing, shampooing and toweling his wet hair.
- Getting dressed
- Having breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between. No more feeding him unless absolutely required.
- Wearing socks and shoes
- Packing his school bag and his pencil box
- Applying oil and combing his hair
- Cleaning up after spilling things
- Placing his plates and cups in the sink after using them
- Placing his worn clothes in the laundry bag
- Packing his bag for an outstation vacation
- Keeping his room tidy to whatever extent possible
- Using his study table and chair almost every time for studying purposes instead the bed or other places
He is still working on doing homework on his own, and cleaning his plates and he feels proud when completing his own list. I am sure there would be difference of opinion on what is the right age for kids to start doing their own chores. But as a parent we can be observant on what they can do and help magnify their skills towards building their confidence. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when trying to enable your kids into independent completion of their work.
- Create a routine. I used a morning routine chart and an evening routine chart that he could tick the checkboxes off from until he got the hang of doing chores.
- Curb the urge to step in and solve problems for kids. Wait and observe. If they say they can’t do something, ask them, “Yeah, it must seem difficult. What can be done to fix it?” Make them think and find answers. Repeat as necessary.
- Let them forget and learn from it. If they forget about homework or a project until the last minute, though it might be difficult to digest, let them face the consequence one or two times and watch them remember every detail beautifully the next time.
- Show empathy. Constantly remind them that you will be available by their side always but would rather have them solve things on their own using their own mind. That you would love them no matter what. Somehow letting them know that their mind is fully equipped to handle things makes them feel proud.
- Let them make his own choices in small ways like ordering their own choice of food in a restaurant, choosing own clothes to wear and snacks to eat from the list of available ones. You do not have to run to the store to get what they want that very moment, because that would turn into adamancy and instant gratification but you can show them available options and let them choose from that.
- Let them initiate responsibilities and you set the limitations. If they want their own bag of toys and clothes for the vacation, tell them clearly they have to carry the bag and cannot let someone else carry the bags for them throughout the trip.
- Say what you mean, and mean what you say. You cannot warn them of a consequence and not follow through. Kids are smart in figuring out patterns in which parents work. If you say something, truly mean it and make sure it happens. Empty threats become useless after a while and add to your stress. If you do not mean it, refrain yourself from giving ultimatums like “If you do not stop fighting with your friends, we are going back home right this minute” and continue to stay there after several warnings. Instead stick to the doable ones, like warning to keep the toy in dispute out of reach of anyone, or warning to remove snack/ice cream from the menu. Once I had to cancel Akash’s birthday party at the last minute because of his constant fist fight with his classmate despite several warnings. It took me a whole month to plan the entire party but I had to stick with my threats, in order for him to learn about consequences and that lesson sank deep into his heart like none other.
Hope this helps and good luck to all those who are trying hard to nurture the independence in their children while also maintaining their own tranquility.