8 Tips for Raising Confident, Independent Kids

8 Tips for Raising Confident, Independent Kids

The whys and hows of teaching kids self-reliance and personal responsibility.

By Leah Maxwell

When our children are small, our main focus as parents is taking care of their needs -- doing all the things they can’t do for themselves. We cut their meat, we wash their dishes and laundry, we write thank you notes on their behalf, we put away their toys after they’ve gone to bed. It’s natural to want to baby our babies, but there comes a time when those babies aren’t so little anymore and certain kinds of parental “help,” however well meaning, aren’t nearly as helpful as teaching our kids how to do things for themselves.

It can be hard to let our children grow up, but the experts agree that perhaps the best thing we can do for our kids -- and indeed one of the most important jobs a parent has -- is to teach the next generation to be independent. Here, eight practical tips parents can follow to make sure they’re giving their kids the tools they need to be confident, competent people.

1. Keep things in perspective and play the long game. “Don’t think in the short term and just do things for your kids by tackling a task that you can do more easily yourself,” says Marney Studaker-Cordner of EmpoweringParents.com. “Take a step back and take the time to teach them how to do things: laundry, pet care, dinner prep -- anything that will build life skills that are needed for everyday survival. After all, it is great to be a violin virtuoso or chess champ, but making your bed, fixing breakfast, and catching a bus are the little things that will get you on your feet.”

2. Give your kids some control and decision-making power. “Responsibility is exhilarating when you’re a kid,” says personal finance and credit expert Sarah Elliott. “And your child’s first taste of independence can be as simple as choosing his own food at a restaurant. He’ll relish the freedom.” It’s fine to give parameters (“You have to choose at least one vegetable” or “Keep it under $10”), but these limits will also help reinforce your family values regarding nutrition and money management.

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3. Chores teach life skills. “Kids are driven by milestones and rewards -- two things you can incorporate into everyday life,” says Elliott. To that end, Susan Smith Kuczmarski, the author of three books on parenting and families, encourages parents to assign chores that are not only age appropriate but that transcend traditional gender boundaries. “Older boys need to cook, iron, and do laundry,” she says. “Older girls need to handle tools, change car oil, and maintain yards. Teens, especially, need to learn adult survival skills, so give them plenty [to do] around the house, and help them learn responsibility -- the ultimate survival skill.”

4. Teach your child the difference between a job and a responsibility. To build on the previous point, when it comes to household chores not everyone agrees on whether children should be paid for their help. Gail Gross, a psychologist and child-family therapist, gives this advice:Whenever possible, find a reward system other than money. I prefer tokens, which can be accumulated and traded for things that each particular child holds dear. In this way children don’t develop a feeling of entitlement -- that they should be paid for every favor they do around the house.”

Gross says it is better to help your children realize that they are an integral part of a team, and that helping around the house is just part of life.

5. Let your kids try to work out their own conflicts before you step in. “The urge to protect your kids is natural, but it isn’t always the best choice,” says Elliott. “Stepping in too often will either make them codependent or, worse, incapable of making solo decisions. Problem-solving and confidence go hand in hand, so give your kid some breathing room to work things out on his own before interjecting.”


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6. Build confidence that comes from within. Generic praise (like “I am proud of you”) is less effective for building strong, lasting confidence than specific praise that encourages a child to acknowledge his or her own strengths (like “How do you feel about completing that difficult jump during ice skating practice?”). Kuczmarski suggests parents have each child write a list of affirmations or positive strengths and post them in a special place where they will see them every day. “Self-confidence develops inside the child/teen as she learns to see her beauty from her own vantage point,” she says. “Learn to praise your teen in a way that encourages her to acknowledge her own strengths, from her own point of view.” Over time, praise of this kind will place the teen in front of her own mirror, where she can acknowledge herself for her own strengths and achievements, rather than rely on the approval or judgment of others, Kuczmarski notes.

7. Let your kid experience the consequences of her actions. “Bad decisions have consequences, and it’s a good idea to teach this lesson early,” says Elliott. “Dock their allowance for poor behavior, bringing home a sub-par grade, or damaging a neighbor’s property. Tough love has its place, and your kids will learn from its message. Your [credit] provider won’t bail you out of debt, and you shouldn’t bail your kids out, either.”

8. Let your kids fail. “On average, one can learn more from failure or mistakes made than from straight successes,” says Jason Ma, author of Young Leaders 3.0: Stories, Insights, and Tips for Next-Generation Achievers. “It is vital to teach and guide them well but we parents must allow them some room to make mistakes,” he says.

How are you raising your children to be independent?

Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/Fertnig

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