As parents, we all want our children to grow up into responsible, independent adults someday. And as it turns out, nurturing your child’s independence isn’t just about giving yourself some relief as a parent. It also has long-term positive health effects for your kiddo, too.
Debbie Carter, a child and family psychotherapist based out of Denver, says that our independence is a big part of our overall happiness.
Encouraging your child’s independence at an early age can help foster their self-confidence, which in turn complements their natural sense of curiosity and creativity.
“Beginning in infancy, for example, a child can learn how to hold a toy and find it again when they drop it,” explains Carter. “The concept of independence really begins once you’re born.”
As a parent, you already know the basics of teaching your young child how to do things on their own — how to feed themselves, go potty, get dressed, and more. But there are more ways you can start encouraging your child’s independence now that will set them up for a lifetime of success.
Below are 6 ways you can encourage healthy independence in your child from an early age.
1. Follow Their Lead
Following your children’s lead is a great way to see what they naturally desire or gravitate toward. “[This is how] humans learn best about what they are most interested in,” Carter explains.
Pay close attention to what sparks your children’s curiosities. This can help them grow creatively on their own, and give you ideas for how to support their natural skills and interests.
For example, if your kiddo is curious about what you’re up to every time you cook dinner, give them ways to help, like picking out the spices or picking ripe vegetables from the garden.
Not only will this help you out as a busy parent, but it will let your child exercise their independence and boost their confidence.
2. Balance Responsibility With Safety
Of course, the amount of independence you give your child depends on how old they are, and what activities they’re physically and mentally ready to tackle on their own. It’s always important to balance your child’s independence with awareness of their safety.
“Children need advocates and protectors to keep them safe,” says Carter. “[They’re] not able to succeed without a sense of safety.”
At Mountain Kids, each class is specific to a certain age range, and caters to that age group’s developmental level and needs. Our expert instructors make sure each class remains safe and practical for children of all ages and skill levels.
3. Think Ahead and Set Goals
While keeping your child’s safety in mind, think about the year ahead and ways your child can continue to grow into their own independence. Once your child has proven they can master previous goals without supervision, introduce new challenges in baby steps.
“You will be one step ahead of your child by knowing what developmental stages come next, and what is important for them to master,” Carter says. “And they will learn from your modeling that human growth is a lifelong process.”
If your child can dress themselves, maybe it’s time for them to learn how to tie their own shoes. If they can ride a bike without training wheels, maybe they’re ready to start doing their own laundry or helping pull weeds in the yard.
Be sure to stay close to help mentor them the first couple of times they try something new, and set them free once they seem to have the hang of it. Practice makes perfect, so don’t expect perfection until they’ve had time to practice the new skill!
4. Be There to Support, Encourage, and Help
One of the most important ways to encourage independence in your children is to be their biggest cheerleader!
Whatever you child is doing — from trying a new sport to reading a challenging book — support your children along the way, and always be encouraging so they know they’re capable of mastering a new skill or task.
“If your children have your support, they will less likely become anxious about completing a task or mastering a skill,” Carter says.
5. Allow Them to Fail
When your children fail at something, it doesn’t mean they’ve done something wrong. If your kiddo doesn’t nail a new task or skill on the first try, it’s important that your feedback doesn’t create a sense of shame or wrong-doing so that they have the confidence to keep trying.
On the other hand, it’s also important to not come to your child’s rescue and complete the task for them when they don’t get it right.
“Humans learn by trial-and-error, and those who are rescued will not learn,” Carter says.
Instead, highlight the positive parts of the task at hand. For example, if your children are setting the table for dinner but forgot the forks, tell them they did a great job and give them the chance to realize the forks are missing from the table once it’s time to eat. If not, they’ll have the chance to try again tomorrow.
6. Enroll Your Child in Mountain Kids Classes
“Learning any new skill—whether physical, mental or occupational—builds a sense of confidence, which is the first step to building independence,” says Carter.
With many options to choose from, your child can develop independence through these extracurricular activities by gaining self-confidence and other skills like strength, coordination and balance.