PAALS
Blog

How to Raise A Responsible & Independent Child

You are NOT helping your child by doing everything (or even most of these things) for her.

(5-minute read) Now that you’re back into the swing of the things with shuttling your children around, helping with homework, making lunches and more, you might find yourself overwhelmed and/or looking for some well-deserved time for yourself. Well I’ve got great news for you. I have a solution for you that will give you back a nice chunk of time each and every day. But even more importantly, in the process you’ll be providing your child with valuable skills – responsibility and independence –  which will serve her well and separate her from the pack.  If I’ve piqued your interest and you’re up for the challenge, game on!

Step 1

Take out a pen and a piece of paper. Now get another piece of paper, and another. (How many pieces you’ll need will be an indicator of how little/much responsibility you currently give your child. You’ll see what I mean after the exercise.)

Next, start writing down all of the things you do for your child on a daily basis. You might find it helpful to start with the morning and go through a typical day. Then get broader as you go on. Of course, the age of your child will determine what’s on the list. Below are some examples to get you started.

Preparing for School

  • Wake up your child & help her get dressed
  • Brush her hair / teeth
  • Make breakfast / lunch & prepare school snack
  • Pack her school bag
  • Reminders: wear sneakers for gym, bring library book back to school, or wear school shirt

While they are at school

  • Make her bed
  • Clean her room
  • Empty her garbage
  • Laundry (bring it to washer, wash, dry, fold, put it away)

After school

  • Prepare a snack
  • Unpack her bag (ie: hang jacket, put lunch containers in dishwasher, etc)
  • Help with homework
  • Prepare bags for activities (ie: snack, water, inhaler)
  • Drive to and from activities

Evening

  • Prepare & serve dinner (set & clear the table)
  • Start the shower
  • Brush her hair / teeth

Okay…you get the point.  And this laundry list (pun intended) of daily chores we do for our kids is pretty long without non-daily things like groceries, shopping, birthday presents. It’s time consuming just to write it all down. Exhausting to think about.  And that’s without doing any of the actual work!

Step 2

Now here’s the interesting part. Circle all of the things on your list that your child is realistically able to do on her own. Be honest with yourself and don’t underestimate her. There’s a big difference between what your child is physically able to do versus what makes sense for you to do or even what you want to do for her.

Step 3

Take a long hard look at what’s left. It’s quite possibly less than half of the things with which you started. Now, here’s the easy (or not so easy part), cross off all of the circled items that you are going to start having your child do for herself.

WARNING: You might look at this list and think any one or more of the following thoughts…

  • I want to do it all.
  • It’s easier for me to do it because I know it will be done right.
  • I’m a parent, it’s my job to do these things/help my child.
  • It makes me a good parent when I help.

Before you allow yourself to believe that, I’m going to let you in on a little secret…

You are NOT helping your child by doing everything (or even most of these things) for her.

Let me repeat…

YOU ARE NOT HELPING YOUR CHILD BY DOING THESE THINGS FOR HER.  

YOU ARE ACTUALLY HINDERING HER!

Your child needs to learn responsibility and independence. And what better place to learn these important lessons than at home in a safe and supportive environment with her parent who will support and guide them.

I have firsthand experience because I’ve been working on this with my girls for years now. It is not easy to break the habit of being your child’s maid, cook, tutor, secretary (and so on and so forth). And they don’t make it easy to change.  Thrusting these new expectations on her your child will probably make her angry. Maybe she’ll throw a fit and/or speak inappropriately.

I wish I could promise you that any negative behavior will dissipate over time. But I can’t. However, based on my personal experience, and feedback from parents who have implemented this approach, your child will likely push back less and less as time progresses.  What I can say for sure is that by handing off these responsibilities your life will get easier. And at the same time you can feel good knowing that you are providing your child with valuable skills that will not only help her succeed, but will likely differentiate her from her peers.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you give your child every responsibility she is capable of taking on. You might like waking up your daughter by sitting on her bed and rubbing her back.  Or you might want to continue preparing her after school snack because she likes seeing the designs you make out of fruits and/or vegetables. There’s no harm in doing a few important or meaningful things.  Traditions like these are sweet, and likely create lasting memories for both of you.

My guess is though, that there are some of you out there who can justify (in one way or another) being responsible for every single thing on the list.  If you think you are in danger of this happening, just use this simple, effective test.

Ask yourself, is my child going to look back and fondly recall that every day I (fill in the blank, like make her bed, start the shower, etc)?  No! Let’s be real, She is not going to feel that way about every item on the list.

For those that are excited at the mere thought of whittling down their daily to do list, remember, it’s important to set yourself and your child up for success. In other words, do not dump everything on your child at once. That will likely be a shock to the system. Overwhelming. Stressful.  And simply unfair. Instead, gradually incorporate more tasks as your child adapts to the increasing amount of responsibility. You might even want to try mapping out a plan where you add something new each week, or even each month. It will make this transition smoother and more palatable for both of you.

The Fallout

When your child has more responsibilities, it likely means less time doing things she would rather be doing, like using screens, playing games or hanging out with friends. So naturally, you can expect her to push back on you. Or even worse. She may just do everything in her power to break you down.

As you probably guessed, once you give in, any progress made will be reversed. Then it’s over!

DO NOT allow that to happen, especially in the beginning. Stand strong and hold your ground.  Once your child consistently demonstrates responsible behavior, then it’s okay to help out when she really needs it. Like if she’s running late, maybe you lend a hand by packing her lunch. Or when she’s stressed about tests and busy studying, you renew her book at the library. Just be careful not to allow either of you to slip back into old habits.

Tips

  1. Discuss the plan with your child. Communication is key.
  2. Make it routine. An expectation is not the same as an option.

Here are some examples of things your daughter can be responsible for (dependent on age)

  1. Have your child set an alarm to wake up in the morning. Or compromise like I do with my teenagers-who sometimes wake up early to study or go in extra early for something. I have a cutoff. If they want to get up before 6:45 am, then they have to set their alarm.
  2. Set consistent plans. For example, the garbage gets emptied on Mondays and Wednesdays. The laundry gets taken to the washing machine on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This can be a big help to them (and you).
  3. Instead of checking in to see what your child needs, put it on her. Have your child make a list of what she needs from you. Make it easy. Place a wipe off board on the fridge or a pad on the counter.  When she is running low on something, have her write it down. Sure, she’ll forget a bunch of times and tell you, “ I need turkey for tomorrow’s lunch.” If you run right out to the store and buy it, she will not be inclined to remember in advance the next time. If you don’t respond, she will be without what she wants for a few days, which will help her to quickly learn the importance of being organized and planning in advance. This approach will also help your child learn problem solving skills. Using the above lunch example, she might end up trying something different for lunch.  Or, if she ran out of her favorite shampoo, she might go to your shower to borrow yours. No harm in either solution. In fact, it might even prompt positive results, like incorporating a new food into their repertoire.Want to make your life and theirs even easier? Tell your child that you go to the store twice a week and on which days (ie: Friday and Tuesday). When she tells you on a Wednesday that she ran out of something and needs it immediately, you can gently remind her that you’d be happy to pick it up on Friday-the next time you’ll be at the store. This way, she’ll be more apt to get into the routine with you.
  4. Have your child make phone calls to get what she needs. For example, your child can look up the phone number for the library and call to check if they have the book she needs. If so, she can ask them to leave it at the front desk for you. It’ll save you some time when you go to pick it up. There are so many more calls she can make, like calling the restaurant when you are ordering take out/delivery or the local store to find out their hours.  Regardless of how intelligent your child is, it might be painful to listen to her on the phone. She may sound like a bumbling idiot. But she will quickly learn how to effectively communicate. And I promise this skill (which is being lost due to technology usage) will serve her well in the future.
  5. Have your child run errands. You can drive to the store and have your child run in to get what is needed. Or, after dance class, you can have your daughter pick up the milk you need for the morning right next door. Or when your child goes into town with friends after school, have her stop at the eyeglass place to pick up her contacts (of course, she should call to order them by phone in advance). Yes, these things might require money, which means you have to trust your child with cash or a credit card. But you’d be surprised at how many small businesses will let you keep a tab or a credit card on file. They see the value in helping families in the community raise responsible children. These interactions will also help reinforce your child’s basic math skills, as well as money management.

The Reward

There is simply no downside to having your child navigate everyday situations.  

Think about all of the valuable life skills your child will learn in the process.

When the day comes that she is finally out on her own, she will appreciate how much more prepared she is than her friend whose mother did everything for her.  

Dream about the many things you can accomplish for yourself with all of the free time you’ve gained.

It’s a true win-win! 

Share: