Many parents have been asking me about how to get their children to become more independent. Sadly, there is no quick fix… but there is a way through, it just isn’t what you may think. This post is a repost under a different title and it addresses the issue of growing true independence by inviting dependence. Enjoy!
Our commute to school should be a pleasant one, no matter the season. I say commute, but it isn’t really. It is more like a mini-hike on a trail through a beautiful forest. We cross a bridge, throw stones into the water, look for birds and identify little creatures as we go. Sounds glorious right? There is just one problem…
The walk to school is only as wonderful as it could be if you are happy with the destination. More days than not, my youngest daughter is far from thrilled. The fact that it is school we are heading to taints the on-the-way-there-nature-loving-experience, BIG time. Her brain is focussed on what is at the end of the trail, not what is on it.
School is not the problem, separation from me is. The strange thing is, my daughter loves school! She likes her teachers, she loves learning, she enjoys time with her friends. But what my little girl finds very hard is the transition away from me and into the school environment. She is extremely sensitive (and anxious) and this impacts her ability to be able to say “Bye Mom, see you later” and walk into the school building all by herself..
I have come to understand that what she needs to be able to make this transition as easy on both of us as possible, is for me to be there for her. Not every day anymore, not even most days, but at least for the first while when going back to school after a break from school, like a long weekend or a holiday. What makes the difference to her is knowing that I will come into her classroom, help her to hang up her backpack and then be there whilst she gets what she needs ready to begin her school day.
I anticipate that my last line is triggering a response in many of you right now, especially if you are a teacher (and I am one!). I say things like ‘help her’ and many people react with ‘Why would you help her to do the things that she can do for herself, how will she ever learn to become independent?’ The answer is really quite simple, by inviting dependence I encourage independence.
Sounds paradoxical right? Well, it is, but stick around to hear my explanation for why I have found this approach to be true before fully cementing yourself to your initial reaction. I invite you to consider this…
When children sense that they can’t depend on those who love them for help in situations they feel that they need it the most, they become fixated on getting us to help them. Think about the toddler just learning to walk. The more you want to pick them up and carry them, the more they resist you and want to do it for themselves. In contrast, a child who is constantly being put down and told to walk, wants nothing more than to be picked up and carried. The very same situation ‘having to walk’ is changed by the energy that is brought by the parent, one is an inviting and generous ” Here, let me help you” and the other is a much colder “You can do it yourself.”
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that the second response comes from a good intention which most parents have, and that is to encourage independence. But you see, my take on this is a little different. Children learn how to walk as soon as they are developmentally able. They want to walk and they do it when they need to. They don’t need to schedule a practice, they just do it! This situation isn’t about being unable to walk, this is about them being able to depend on you, even when they are fully capable of doing something for themselves.
As an adult, we can do most things for ourselves, we are older and more capable than our children (duh!) but does that really mean that we want to do everything for ourselves just because we can? No, there are times when it feels very nice to have my husband offer to make me a cup of tea or to pick up the kids. Can I do those things for myself? Definitely, but does it make me love him even more for offering, absolutely! The kindness he shows when offering to do things for me strengthens our relationship because I know that I can lean on him when I need/want to.
The same is true for our children, when we offer to help them it builds their trust in us. It gives them a sense of us being there for them both when they feel that they need our help and when they don’t. This isn’t about specific situations requiring help or not helping, this is about deepening our relationship with them. Giving them the “I am there for you” feeling that they will carry within even when they are apart from us. That is what we are going for. That is what keeps them looking to us for their cues. This is the magic ingredient that makes it possible for us to parent them when they are babies,toddlers, youths,teens and even adults. That feeling that someone has their back makes them want to do things for themselves because when you have a sense that someone is there for you, your energy to do things for yourself is freed up and you do it because it feels right, it feels satisfying to say “I did it for myself” which is a very different feeling than saying, “I did it because Mommy made me.”
So, for the next while I’ll be the Mom in the classroom helping my child settle in. Could I have taken the hard lines approach and told her to get in there and do it for herself. Of course yes! (Don’t think I haven’t felt like doing this many times.) I certainly could have resorted to all my old tricks involving rewards and punishment, but I have come to know that those are short lived and only result in her acting as if she was independent, instead of truly being independent. For me, inviting dependence leads to independence and I would much rather that she truly grow up slowly instead of acting grown up instantly.
I have chosen the slower route, and I am good with that.