Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: How To Raise Independent Kids


How do we teach our kids to solve their own problems and be independent. It all starts in infancy. In the process of talking to our babies, bathing them, dressing them and spending all different types of time with them, we can offer them one or two choices. An example would be in bathing them, we could say, "Would
you like to play with the yellow boat or the red sponge?". This simple act of making a choice is teaching them to begin thinking for themselves and growing toward independence. As they get older,
we can do the same thing when dressing them and even let them make certain choices as to what they would like to wear such as shirt color or choice of socks. When reading to them at night and tucking them in, we could say, "Would you like to read the bunny book or
the little bear book?" and then respect their choice. The examples could go on and on. In every single activity our young children are involved in, we can choose to teach them independence with creative questions and choice options.

When our children begin to play with other children and get into fights on the playground, we can talk them through each episode.  Without judging them, let them learn how to make choices and think through their choices in the future. You might say, "What will happen if you hit so and so back? How might you handle this
problem the next time it occurs?". If their response is totally inappropriate, we can guide them back to healthy choices. Always respect their independence and let them work through their problems. 

I remember a great learning time in my own life when I was bossy and self-centered and my friends finally had enough of it. They went off on their bikes and left me stuck in the mud. I went home and complained to my parents who laughed and said, "Well, what can
you do different so that they will want to play with you?". It suddenly became obvious to me that I needed to get over my bossiness and go along with the gang instead of trying always to be in charge. 

Occasionally we have to block our children's independent choices.  An example would be if they picked a dangerous activity such as riding a bike, a motor bike or any dangerous vehicle without a safety helmet or seat belt. Another example of something that
could hurt them would be to go to an age inappropriate movie. At times like this it is best for parents to say no and be firm about it. As our kids grow up if we make an honest effort to allow them to stretch their wings every chance they can starting in infancy, they will grow up independent and be best prepared for their world



What about homework and kids who don't want to work hard in school?

I think as parents we can guide our children. We can offer them support such as calling out things, helping them get organized, etc. but we should not do their homework or their school projects for them. If they refuse to participate as instructed by their teachers and get bad grades, then it is best to let them experience
lower grades and learn their lesson. This is a choice that they make perhaps without much thought. The only way they will grow from it is if we let them accept the responsibility for their choices. If we always bail them out or do their work for them, they will never have the chance to grow up and be independent. 

Similarly with extracurricular activities, we must guide our children to the activities we think they are strong in but we cannot make any child become an Eagle Scout, football star, dancer, singer, or piano player. Ultimately, we can try our best to inspire them and give them opportunities but they have to find self-motivation through their own interest and attraction to a
given extracurricular activity. In the long marathon of raising our children, we should remember that life is a long journey and we don't want to burn our kids out by overloading them with too many pressures or activities at a young age. Let them follow their heart and participate in things that they like and choose as much
as possible. Trust their judgment, pray for them and love them,  then, back away and let them be their own person. This is how we teach our kids to solve their own problems and to grow up independent.