6 Science-Proven Ways to Make Your Kids More Independent

6 Science-Proven Ways to Make Your Kids More Independent

Maybe they’ll even let you use the bathroom in peace!

By Jeanne Sager

It may be one of the cruelest truths of parenting: Almost from the minute our kids arrive on the scene, we’re preparing them for a day when they’ll have to be independent from us. In our brains, we know it has to be that way, and as good parents, we want to foster the confidence and resilience they’ll need to walk out into the wide world on their own.

But we all know our brains only do half of the heavy lifting in parenting, don’t we? So sometimes we fudge a little bit. We pull them closer and spoil them a bit more, and we revel in how much first our babies and then our toddlers need us.

And then it happens … you have one of those stage-one clingers who can’t seem to do anything on his or her own. They’re completely capable and yet completely resistant to doing anything without you either helping or being right there.

Been there, done that, haven’t gone to the bathroom alone in four weeks because of it? Let’s put the emotions on the back seat and let the brain take over again. Here’s what science says you can do to foster a little more independence in your kids:

More from P&G everyday: 8 Tips for Raising Confident, Independent Kids

1. Pull back on the compliments. Of course our kids need a pat on the back now and then, and they need a steady stream of love and affection. But if you have a child who doesn’t seem able to do anything independently, it may be because you’ve spent too much time building up his self-esteem and not enough letting him build his actual skills. Researchers at Stanford University have found that kids who get too much praise tend to be more risk-averse and haven’t developed necessary coping mechanisms. Less praise can actually make them more willing to try new things.

2. Sign them up for daycare. Don’t want a toddler who’s attached to your leg on the first day of kindergarten? You may want to send them to a daycare program or a local nursery school for at least a few days a week. It’s not just about spending time away from Mom or Dad; being in group setting help kids develop the sort of social skills that make for increased independence.

3. Get them moving. It’s hard to come up with any reason not to exercise with your kids, but the British Heart Foundation discovered a reason unrelated to physical health to do it: It gives kids a confidence boost.


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4. Encourage them to get risky. We spend half their early years yelling, “Get down from there!” and “You are a little girl, not a monkey!” But a study published in 2015 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests risk is actually good for kids. So good that we should be encouraging it. The researchers found that kids who engage in what they call "risky adventures” such as water play, rough-and-tumble play, and other playground fare of generations past were more active, more confident and more psychologically healthy. In other words: The less you hover, the less they need you to do so.

5. Put them to work. Doling out chores may inspire moans and groans, but they’re also an importance piece of building your kids’ confidence. After all, not only do your kids learn a new skill that they’ll use for a lifetime, they’re also seeing you put your trust in them to do things that you used to yourself. It’s one way to treat them a little more like a grown up … while getting the dishes into that dishwasher. The more trust you put in them, the less you’ll have to nag (hopefully).

6. Slow down their schedules. We live an age of karate classes and soccer camps and piano lessons, and sometimes kids have all three in one day. It’s why scientists at the University of East Anglia say kids have a hard time entertaining their brains when they get down time. They’re not familiar with the concept! So as much as you don’t want to listen to “I’m bored” all afternoon, forcing kids to make their own entertainment may be your best bet to foster independence in the long run.

What have you found helps your kids feel more independent?

Jeanne Sager is a freelance writer, photographer and social media junkie. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, daughter, and way too many pets. You can follow her @JeanneSager.

Image ©iStock.com/Kontrec

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