ONE of the greatest gifts I think you can give to children is to instil a strong sense of independence in them from a young age. I suppose really one cannot talk about independence without it being intrinsically linked with confidence because undoubtedly the two go hand in hand.
You could argue that, to a certain degree whether a child is independent and confident is largely to do with their individual personalities and this is very true, but even the quietest child has the capacity to be independent and confident in their own way.
I have four very different children; all parented the same way, and one of the girls is incredibly outgoing whereas another lady is shy, so building confidence and independence in her is more of an effort than the other girl.
We all know as adults the importance of being independent and confident, it gives you the ability to strike out and make friendships easily, to talk in front of crowds and to have the courage to travel the world, to try new things and to be adventurous. And while doing none of that is equally applaudable, to have the option of doing both is important.
On top of building independence, it shows children that we trust them, that we think they are capable and able for the task ahead. It isimportant, as much as you want to reach out and help, to stand back and just verbally help them, tell them what the next step is, guide them through and praise them, even if they put on their trousers back to front or their t shirt inside out. I don’t know how many times I have had to resist the urge to just zip up a coat or pull on a pair of trousers, I am not a very patient person by nature so this whole concept of encouraging independence is strange for me.
The sense of achievement they get from having done something for themselves though is hugely beneficial so my patience is improving!
If you even step back and think about all that they learn during the simple act of learning how to put on their own clothes, it’s really amazing — self-reliance, perseverance, patience and concentration, its powerful learning. Never underestimate the power of letting a child get on with things themselves.
The easiest and most obvious place to start with creating an independent child is to allow them independence within their daily routine. While it may sound straightforward to say let children do things for themselves, like put on their own shoes, feed themselves with their own spoon or brush their own teeth, we all know as parents it is our natural instinct to try and help children with everything or to do things for them.
I am a huge believer in independent play as a way of encouraging my girls to think independently, I think the lockdowns over the last 18 months and being stuck at home brought this on hugely in our house. Granted, some children are just not cut out for it, my eldest lady doesn’t have the same imagination my two younger girls have. The younger girls could genuinely disappear for the day lost in a world of dolls and make-believe whereas my eldest works better to task — give her something to do and she will work away at it but tell her to go and play and she struggles.
Does that mean she isn’t independent? Absolutely not, it just means she has a different type of independence.
However, independence is a funny thing for parents — I want my girls to be self-sufficient but I struggle with it at times, for example when they skip into their first day of play school or school and are happy and confident, obviously I am thrilled for them, but a part of me wishes they needed me more. It doesn’t really get any easier as they get older, they naturally want to be away from you more, finding friends more interesting, and when they may have disagreements with people or something goes wrong on the sports field, as a parent you want to step in but we have to find the balance between letting them stand up for themselves and knowing when to step in.
With independence comes the ability for a child to know how to handle a tricky situation, to know when to walk away from it, to deal with it, and how to come and talk to you about it.
Parenting is tricky, it is never straightforward, we don’t always get it right but as long as we do things with good intentions we are doing our best.