How to help your kids be more independent and self-sufficient

By Elissa Strauss, CNN

Among the many devastating long-term impacts of Covid-19, the pandemic has dealt a death blow by preventing many children from developing independence and taking on greater responsibility.

Blockages, distance learning and quarantines have placed burdensome limits on children’s physical freedoms, reducing their opportunities to do all kinds of things on their own outside the home. There have been school and camp closures, as well as cancellations of play dates, sports games and birthday parties – the list went on and on. Achieving independence is much more difficult when children never stray from their parents and carers.

Additionally, many of those exhausted and terrified parents and caregivers – who knew they should be encouraging kids to tie their shoes, do lunch, do laundry, or go to the store to buy milk – struggled to find the time and space. invest in teaching these tasks. We thought about how to survive in the present, not what is best in the long run.

Now, with the start of a relatively normal school year, families may have more opportunities and emotional bandwidth to help children become more self-reliant.

A key element of maturity is learning to “make independent decisions and deal with difficult situations on your own when needed,” said Karen VanAusdal, senior director of practice at Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. Teaching a kindergarten child to put away their laundry or take their plate to a buffet may seem far from the kind of independence they will need to master in adolescence and adulthood, but there is a connection. They are learning to trust their instincts and to take care, literally and figuratively, of their own things.

They are also seeing how self-reliance helps them to be part of a community, family or not. When a child puts away the laundry, his parents have one less thing to do. By taking food at a buffet, they learn a new skill so that a parent can send them back for a plate of fruit salad or a cup of coffee. In other words, they take care of themselves and others. “Independence also allows you to contribute your skills and leadership to solving problems, both individual and collective,” said VanAusdal.

Here are ways to approach encouraging independence that aim to meet each child’s individual needs:

Frame new skills like building relationships with others

Learning to pack a backpack or spill cereal may count as children become more independent, but parents should help them see how these seemingly small acts connect them to others, said Maurice J. Elias, a psychology professor at Rutgers University. and co-author of “Emotionally Intelligent Parenting: How to Raise a Self-Regulating, Responsible, and Socially Skilled Child.

“We humans were not supposed to be independent. It’s true biologically and it’s true socially, ”she said. “We hope and require attachment to other people and institutions – home, school, work, community, religion – that give meaning and purpose to our lives.”

Create a new skill so that children see that they are taking on a more important role in their families and communities. For example, who bought the food they are using to make lunch? How does making your bed, or cleaning your room, make mornings easier for parents and caregivers? If your kids go to the supermarket alone, don’t forget to prepare them to engage and interact with others, Elias said. Did they keep the door open for the person behind them? Did they say please and thank you?

Learning such skills is about common courtesy, Elias said, but it also prepares children for a more interdependent future.

Take it easy

Don’t rush to make up for lost time, experts say. Move slowly and respect the child’s emotional state and practical competence. “The children have lost a sense of trust,” Elias said. “Try to get them to start with something they will succeed at, rather than throwing them straight into a difficult challenge.”

With young children, VanAusdal suggests starting with something as simple as asking them to make simple choices. “Tell a child, ‘Here are two shoes you can wear today. Which one do you want to wear? ‘”Making small decisions will help them feel more confident by taking on more responsibility.

Associating these responsibilities with a new privilege can help children feel good about the changes, she added. Maybe they not only cook dinner, for example, but they also decide what the family eats.

Take a step back

Adults should give children space to explore their independence, VanAusdal said.

The key is that parents provide space for the necessary trial and error. “Think, ‘Here are two or three places where I can allow my children to take on more responsibility,'” she said. “Yes, there will be mistakes, but in the end it will go faster.” This can be a growing experience for everyone involved.

Adults can also follow their children’s lead, said Anya Kamenetz, an educational journalist and author of the upcoming book “The Stolen Year: How COVID Changed Children’s Lives, and Where We Go Now.”

Find ways for children to take more responsibility in an area they are already interested in or to help them achieve their goals. “My 10-year-old daughter loves the idea of ​​making extra money, so she set up a lemonade stand the other day,” she said, while her 5-year-old daughter is “really excited about all the play dates that happen. she is lost, and this is her incentive to start keeping her room clean.


Never underestimate the power of the family calendar, chart, or housework wheel, Kamenetz said. He suggests relying on children’s schedules to create a calendar for new responsibilities. “A new school year is starting,” she said, “so it’s a good time for a recovery.”

“Call a family reunion and say, ‘Here’s what should we do around the house? What’s your piece? ‘”She said she. These conversions help children see all the tasks that help keep the house running.

Household chores are more than arbitrary tasks; they are acts of interdependence. When my kids put away their laundry or get something ready with minimal assistance, they’re not only proud of mastering a new task. They also feel good because they have found a new way to contribute to the collective well-being of the family.

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Elissa Strauss covers the culture and politics of parenting. Her book on the radical power of parenting and caregiving will be published in 2023.

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