“Your goal as a parent is to raise your kids so that if you were lying on the driveway dying, they would just step right over you, walk into the house and carry on.”
As I clutched my newborn baby closer to me, I couldn’t shake the absurdity of this statement. Now, nearly a decade later, this statement is hitting me all over again.
While I obviously think he completely missed the mark on some pretty important things we strive to instill in our children — like compassion, kindness, being a helper, looking out for one another — I also realize he was truly just being extreme in making his point. After all, what is our main goal here?
One of the most important gifts we can give our children is INDEPENDENCE.
It’s interesting to note that many kids are far less prepared for college than in the past, if not academically, most certainly socially. As professor Diaz of NYU puts it, “I think if you ask any college professor, they’ll tell you that students these days are woefully unprepared in basic life skills.”
Typically, when I read things about basic life skills, my finger goes in one direction: Towards ourselves, the parents.
We live in a society in which many of our kids are completely sheltered. Parents orchestrate “perfect” scenarios in which their kids never face adversity and are always “winners.” Kids are coddled to the point where they never have to lift a finger and all of their wishes and commands are met. We are quick to step in to ensure their happiness and hesitate to upset them. We let them retake tests in order to get “straight As” on report cards. Heck, we even do their homework and projects for them. Instead of not making a team, we just create more. We pay thousands of dollars for extras to help our kids get a leg up. We put our kids’ wants and successes above ours almost every single time. We make excuses for them and for ourselves.
These kids will go off to college without a clue as to how to cook, do laundry, manage money, draw personal boundaries, work hard, mess up, stand up for what they believe in, and ultimately become successful, independent adults.
As Diaz said, “Today’s students may be sharp academically, but they often have trouble with basics like planning, time management and problem solving.” There’s no arguing that our kids have many great things going for them. It’s just important that we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. As this article states, “The primary purpose of parenting is to raise fully functional adults who can take care of themselves and make a positive contribution to society.”
Here are some ways that we can start raising independent kids, many from the earliest of ages:
Teach them to be self-sufficient: Empower your kids by allowing them to take on more tasks as they are able. Put bowls and cereal within reach of younger kids and let them pour their own cereal. Let older kids make their own breakfast. Teach them to pack a lunch (perhaps use a guide to follow to avoid the lunch my dismayed daughter told me one kid brought to camp: “He only brought unhealthy snacks. That’s it!!”) Teach them to shower themselves as soon as they are able — talk about a sanity saver! Have them fill their water bottles and make sure they have them every time you are going out. Put them in charge of packing/unpacking their backpacks and ensuring their homework is in their folder. Have them pack and prep their sport bags the night before practice with all of the gear and uniforms they will need. Give them a list and let them pack their own bag for trips.
Give them responsibilities: Kids love to help. Not only will it help you immensely to have them pitching in, but it also boosts their confidence as well. Many ideas listed above overlap with this category. In addition, give them age-appropriate chores (here’s a great way to implement this). Clearly outline your expectations for them regarding academics, extracurricular activities, and behavior.
Teach them accountability: Maintain high expectations, and have logical consequences if they do not do their part. Be consistent. Don’t be the first one to run everything they forgot back to school. It’s okay to let them experience having to eat the school “emergency lunch” or sit through a band practice without their instrument. Take away privileges and teach them to earn things such as extracurriculars, tech time, toys, etc.
Give them a voice: If they learn from an early age that their thoughts and opinions matter, this will help to instill confidence and learn who they are as individuals. Ask their input on things with which you can be flexible, such as what to have for dinner (offer a few reasonable choices), which activities to do for family time, what they want to learn more about. Show them they are heard. Take the time now so that they will be able to come to you with the bigger things in the future. Let them learn their voice matters so they can use it when necessary as they grow.
Let them fail: Kids need to learn that not only is it okay to make mistakes, but that we learn and grow from those mistakes. When they do make a mistake, take a step back and let them problem solve how to remedy it before immediately jumping to their aid. Here’s a great resource on helping kids learn to fail. Sometimes you may even have to intentionally set them up for failure: beat them at a board game, school them on the bball court, give them learning challenges just beyond their reach. It’s equally important that they see you making mistakes. Let them see you overcome your “epic fails” and how you bounce back. If a kid’s first failure is when they get to college, they won’t have the problem-solving skills, experience, or resilience to face it head on.
Teach them to set boundaries: It’s important to teach a child to set their own boundaries as well as to respect the boundaries of others. Teaching boundaries teaches empathy, respect, listening, self-awareness, and empowerment. Boundaries can be explored through sharing toys at playdates, saying it’s okay to say no when someone asks for a hug, setting limits, clearly defined rules, consequences, and communication. This article offers some great ways to help teach children about boundaries. Teach them that everyone’s boundaries are different, but that no always means no.
Talk about finances: Teaching children financial literacy is one of the most important things you can do for them. Teach them the value of a dollar. Provide them with opportunities to earn their own money (allowance, good grades, extra chores, lemonade stands, etc.). You will have to decide whether you believe they should be paid for chores/grades or if that’s part of their family responsibility. Here are some great ideas if you decide to go this route. It is equally important to teach them how to save and spend it. Some people like to set up save (long-term savings account), spend (use to buy what they’d like), and gift (donations) accounts in which a certain percentage of income goes into each category. Show them how you compare prices when shopping, use coupons, and determine whether to make a purchase. Talk through setting goals, want vs. need, debits and credits. Here are some free lesson plans, activities, and games to teach kids about financial literacy.
Let them be bored and learn to entertain themselves: It’s amazing to observe what a kid can come up with when you take away the tech and don’t provide constant entertainment. Let them unleash their creativity, exercise their resourcefulness, discover hidden interests, find their go-to independent activities (reading, art, puzzles, playing ball in the yard, etc.).