6 Little Things You Can Do Every Day to Make Your Child More Independent

Teaching our kids independence is key. But it's not easy. Here are some simple things you can do each day to help your little one be more independent.

An image of a little girl outside.

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As parents, one of our primary parenting goals is to teach our children to be independent. But it's not always easy for them to become more self-sufficient and responsible—or for parents to let go. Some of this is because our instinct as parents is often to make things easier for them, rescue them from their mistakes, and limit their experiences with struggle or (gasp) failure.

However, kids need to be challenged in order to develop the skills, tenacity, grit, and self-reliance needed to (eventually) function in the world on their own. It takes time, effort, and trust to guide your child to become more independent, but the rewards are well worth it.

Here are some simple things you can do every day to help your little one be more independent.

Let Them Make Mistakes

It may seem counterintuitive at first, but letting kids make mistakes will teach them how to succeed in life. When they make a mistake, let them know it's OK and help them brainstorm how they might do better next time. Come up with strategies for rectifying the issue, as needed, as well. Mistakes should be welcomed as learning opportunities.

This mindset shift can be used with anything from small mistakes, like choosing not to bring an umbrella when the forecast calls for rain, to larger ones, like failing a test because they decided to wait until the night before to study. Allowing them to feel any discomfort or disappointment that comes with their choice can be difficult. But doing so helps them thrive, and can actually improve their self-esteem and ability to cope with adversity.

It's hard to see your child struggle. But if you focus on teaching them that failure is just feedback, it helps develop a growth mindset, and with that mindset, they will be able to overcome any struggle confidently and make more informed choices in the future.

Involve Them in Authentic Household Tasks

Encourage your child to take on small tasks like cleaning up toys after playtime, helping put away groceries, and picking up their room. Make sure you are giving them chores that are age-appropriate and necessary. Kids are much more willing to help out when they feel they contribute to the household authentically.

The chores don't have to be big, just something that requires them to think ahead and plan. For example, if there is laundry piling up, ask them what they think should happen. Encourage them to bring a pile of laundry to the washing machine. See if they can help you put clothes into the machine. Maybe they want to help push the button. That's awesome! All of these small tasks are needed to start laundry, and by involving them, they will feel empowered (and eventually, they will get to the point where they can do their laundry on their own!).

Offer Choices and Freedom But Within Limits

Offering reasonable levels of freedom and allowing children to make choices is a great way to empower them, build confidence in their decision-making skills, and help build a sense of responsibility. This can mean asking your child to decide whether to wear a red or blue shirt or letting them walk home from school with a friend. When children can make their own choices, there are more significant opportunities for them to think on their feet and experience natural consequences.

Providing plenty of chances for kids to make their own decisions (and learn from mistakes) is one way parents can show children that their preferences, ideas, wants, and needs are respected and valued. The more practice kids have making choices for themselves, the better.

Keep in mind that if kids have too many options, they can get overwhelmed. So, instead of saying what do you want to do today? Ask them if they would rather go to the playground or for a hike. Try to offer two or three options that you are comfortable with—this helps you say "yes" to whatever option they pick. Also, be sure to provide any scaffolding (such as supervision, rules, or guided choices) necessary when giving them new freedoms.

Note that mess-ups will happen. That just means your child isn't quite ready for the new privilege. In that case, be prepared to step in to keep them safe or behaving responsibly. Losing the privilege will act as a natural consequence. So, rather than focusing on what they did wrong, lean toward helping them to build the skills necessary to try out the freedom again in the future when they're ready.

Give Them Space

Children need space to learn and develop. And they aren't likely to become more independent if they never have the chance to actually be independent. Encourage self-reliance by giving your child plenty of opportunities to explore without being overly supervised. If they are playing in another room, let them play without you (or if you must check in, try to be discreet). If you notice a conflict with a sibling or friend, give them a chance to resolve it productively before interceding.

Let them walk a little ahead of you on the sidewalk (use your best judgment based on the street traffic and their readiness). Send them out to get the mail if your mailbox is a safe distance away. Give them a chance to go inside the cafe, order, and pay for their lunch while you watch from a safe vantage point.

Try to find at least one way every day where your child can accomplish something "on their own" without you right by their side. This could be hanging up their coat, feeding the dog, or repacking their lunch for school.

Avoid Over-Correcting

As much as possible, avoid correcting your child when they are trying to do something independently. For example, if you ask your little one to make their bed, and it isn't perfect, resist the urge to fix it (hard, I know!). Always try to keep in mind that perfection isn't the goal. The goal is to allow your little one to take on the responsibility. They will not want to keep trying if every time they do, they feel they aren't doing it up to your standards.

Design Your Space With Independence in Mind

How you organize your space is going to impact your kid's ability to practice being independent. Are your little ones capable of reaching their cups, plates, forks, and napkins? Is there a pitcher of water they can use to refill their cup if they get thirsty? Do you have a lightweight hamper so they can be in charge of bringing their clothes to the laundry room? Can they access a sink and soap to wash their hands without help?

Think about ways you can increase the chances of your child being able to do something on their own. For example, you could use a lower rack for clothes, so they are more easily accessible. Add a hook at eye level for them to hang their backpack after school. Keep a step stool near the kitchen to get their snack from the fridge or pantry without help.

The Bottom Line

Fostering your child's independence can be both a gift and a struggle. Just remember that the more you do for them, the less they can do (and learn) for themselves. Stop and ask yourself: Can they do this on their own? Do I do too much for them? If you do, keep this Maria Montessori quote in mind: "Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed." The key to helping kids become more independent is to actively and confidently allow them to be independent.

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