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How to Encourage Independence and Confidence in Your Kids

Photo by Nabi Tang / Stocksy United / 33892
Photo by Nabi Tang / Stocksy United

By Kim DeMarchi

Independent, responsible children are the stuff of parenting dreams. You know, the kids who persevere in the face of challenges, who love to try new things, and who are confident in the  outcomes of their decisions?

Luckily, independence is a quality that can be nurtured—by you! Take a look at the following four common scenarios that require parental troubleshooting. In each, your goal is to stay positive and help your budding self-starter learn how to think about the problems (and solutions) for themselves.

1. The situation: Your 3-year-old needs to get dressed, which you’ve always done for them (because it’s so much easier).

Encourage independence: Your rapidly growing child has rapidly growing abilities. Take a moment before doing a task for them to check out what they know, what they’re ready to learn, or what they really can do themselves—and then encourage them to do those things. Your goal is to build competence and confidence—and to show your child you know they’re capable!

Encouraging words:
“We’re heading out in five minutes. What will you need to put on before we go to the park?” 
“I see you put your jacket on. What are your thoughts about shoes?”

2. The situation:
Even though you’ve explained many times to your little builder that Legos have to go back in the bin, there are now hundreds of plastic bricks scattered all over the floor.

Encourage responsibility: Avoid getting frustrated and issuing an order to clean them up. Your goal is to understand your child's thought process—and to encourage them to review past conversations on the topic.

Encouraging words: 
“What was your understanding of our last talk about where your Legos go after playing?”
“What do you think might happen if your baby brother gets those little pieces?”

3. The situation: Your child doesn’t want to eat lunch, but you know that when they don’t eat, they get crabby.

Encourage independence: Rather than forcing them to eat (and telling them why), your goal is to help them think about the results of their choices—and then let them make the decision themselves, even if that means they don’t eat. This will help your child develop the ability to solve problems and think about outcomes on their own.

Encouraging words:
“I’ve noticed that in the past when you don’t eat lunch, you seem to get grumpy and really hungry later. How do you think you’ll feel later if you don’t eat now?”

4. The situation: You host a group of kids for a playdate, and after a snack they all dart away, leaving their cups, plates, and apple cores behind.

Encourage responsibility:  Instead of telling them to come back and clean up, your goal is to invite the children to think of a solution by themselves. After all, just as adults don’t like to be told what to do or be micromanaged (because it feels disrespectful), neither do children.

Encouraging words:
“How do you all plan to clean up after snacks?”
“What will you all need to do in order to make sure the table is clear?” 
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