Encouraging independence

As children get older they can manage more and more tasks and decisions on their own. Some kids are confident trying new things, while others need a bit more encouragement.

Finding the right level of support can also be tricky – you’re trying to hit a sweet spot where kids are challenged and can learn through trial and error, but also feel secure and know that they have adult backing. It can be an adjustment for parents too, but one that pays off as kids' self-confidence, maturity and resilience grows.​

Increasing autonomy through new experiences

Taking risks and being impulsive can be part of a younger child’s quest for new experiences, and kids are notorious for testing boundaries. You can help by providing structure and gradually introducing different challenges, giving them space to experiment and figure things out by themselves within the safety of your family.

Taking them to a different playground with bigger play equipment, getting them to help when you’re preparing meals and encouraging them to play on their own for short time periods are all ways you can support this growing independence.

It’s important to remember that the part of our brain that processes consequences develops much later than the parts responsible for actions – in short, kids often do things without thinking through what will happen as a result. Make sure you balance their growing need for independence with enough supervision to ensure they’re always safe from harm – to themselves and other kids.

Establish clear limits

It’s important to be clear about what behaviour is OK and not OK in your family. Sit down together and talk about the rules of the house, and set the consequences for breaking those rules. It can help to display the rules somewhere visible – on a poster, behaviour chart or the fridge.

For younger children, keeping it simple works well – for example no hitting, no breaking things, inside voice/outside voice etc. Consequences can also be pretty straightforward, such as time out, or removal of a toy for a time period.

As kids get older you can keep updating the family rules together. Remember that rules don’t always have to be negative. Think of them as guidelines for how everyone in the family treats each other, and expects to be treated in return.

Pay attention to their needs

Paying attention to your child’s emotional needs helps them feel secure and gives them the confidence to be more independent.

Here are some ideas:

  • Pick some fun activities that they enjoy and that give you a chance to spend some one-on-one time together. Things like baking, going for a day trip, or making a book of family photos are all good options.
  • Develop a habit of doing something special with each child once a month away from the rest of the family.
  • Try and eat dinner together as often as you can. This can be challenging, as younger kids often need to eat earlier and might not want the same food as the rest of the family. Dishes like tacos or mini pizzas can work well as a family meal as everyone gets to choose their own ingredients.
  • Encourage friendships, especially ones they’ve made themselves.

Know when to back off

It’s important to balance adequate supervision with giving kids the space to figure things out on their own. Give them a chance to make mistakes and try to avoid taking over. If you’re unsure if you’re stepping into a situation too often or too early, ask yourself “Do I really need to get involved?” and, “What would be the worst thing that can happen if I don’t step in?”

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