My high school’s motto was “#Freedom with #Responsibility.” As a student in the early 90s, I never really considered the motto much. I went to an academically rigorous catholic high school, so I thought the phrase reflected an adult’s perspective on the piles of homework we’d get each day. In my young mind the translation went something like: Be responsible by studying and doing your work, and you may just enjoy the freedom of passing. Years later, I’m finding myself more drawn to these three words, especially when it comes to allowing my children the privileges and freedoms they really want.
Today parents are often openly criticized about being overly protective of their children. We’re in the age of “#helicopter parenting,” where some parents don’t allow their children enough opportunities to make mistakes and experience both failures and successes, independent of their watchful eyes.
I get it. It’s a scary world we live in, and I’m like a lot of parents who fear the worst. We hear stories of evil people who prey upon children. We witness accidents where children are injured or killed. We begin to not only mistrust the world around us, but our children’s abilities, too.
With all of that said, I decided that our children needed to experience a little more freedom, so I let it happen on our recent vacation to the Jersey shore. Baby steps, I usually tell myself. So we allowed our two daughters, ages 7 and 10, to walk two blocks—unaccompanied—to a candy store. Now, this was obviously not a dangerous venture. They only had one street to cross to get to Ocean City’s Treats and Treasures. I made sure they understood how important it was to hold hands, take their time and look both ways. Their dad may have even spied on them from the corner, but that’s not the important part. The thing is, my girls came home happy and confident in their new ability to leave our care and do something independent of their mom or dad. They enjoyed the freedom of shopping, unassisted, handing a store clerk money and receiving change.
Experiences like these won’t be the same for all families, but there are numerous ways we can help our children learn #independence without jeopardizing their safety or breaking their spirits. As parents, it’s not going to be easy to watch our children make mistakes, but it’s essential. In order for them to appreciate successes, they must experience a few failures along the way. Mistakes can be opportunities for learning.
Here are a five ways to help your children learn more independence:
1. Give Your Child a New Project. Ask your child to fill the washing machine and run a load of laundry, or ask the librarian where her favorite genre of books are shelved.
2. Seek Opportunities for your Child. Allow your child to pay for things when out at a store, and make sure he orders his food if dining out a restaurant.
3. Praise the Effort; Don’t Judge the Mistakes. They’re going to make mistakes, and that’s ok. Commend your child for trying to do something that may be totally out of her comfort zone.
4. Make it Fun. Start a weekend morning with these words: “What are you going to try on your own today?”
5. Make it Worthwhile. Show your child that with their newly found responsibilities, they can now have the freedoms they’ve always wanted. It may be the privilege of having a social media account if they’re old enough, a sleepover at a friend’s house or even a pet.
You may even decide to have your child keep a journal filled with these mini adventures. Encouraging your child to be independent is a powerful #parenting skill. As motivational speaker and author Denis Waitely said: “The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”