What do you think about when you think about your childhood? Odds are, you don’t think about the television you watched, at least not as much as you think about the fun things you did, especially without your parents. Many kids now don’t do nearly so much on their own. Wouldn’t you like to encourage your kids to be more independent?
It can be difficult to encourage your kids to be more independent these days. There are a lot of things encouraging them to stay inside, from the delights of online games to the fears many parents have of allowing even their teens to do things on their own.
Being comfortable doing things on their own is vital for your kids, both now and later in life. You don’t want them to be completely dependent on you as adults, do you? Now is the time to teach your kids to enjoy age appropriate independence, so they can do more and more on their own as they grow up.
This is not just something to do when the kids are small, although you can start then. It’s something to do throughout their lives.
Books To Read
With all the highly protective parents around, it can be very difficult to let your kids be more independent. Many have very few friends who can meet up with them on their own. Mine have this problem, even my teens. Everyone is in too many activities. They don’t have time to run around and just be kids.
Worse, some people will report kids for being outside if they think they’re too young to be out alone, even when the kids are a perfectly reasonable age. It’s reasonable to be concerned if a two or three year old is wandering the neighborhood alone; it’s quite another when the child is ten or more.
Reading some of these books may help you get more comfortable.
Free Range Kids – I received a free copy of this to review years ago. It’s still worth a read. Kids are capable of so much if you just let them try.
Last Child In The Woods – Another book I received a copy of long ago. It makes excellent arguments for why kids need to get out in nature.
Balanced and Barefoot – I haven’t read this one, but it strikes me as another good choice. The author is a pediatric occupational therapist, and the book explains why kids need to play independently outside. Developmentally, it’s a big deal.
Playborhood – One of the big reasons many parents don’t let their kids play outside is because there’s nobody out there for them to play with. You can change that.
Know Your Local Laws
If you’re unfortunate enough to have excessively concerned neighbors, knowing the laws won’t always protect you from CPS. Some CPS agents will have their own ideas as to what is safe for kids. But for the most part, knowing the laws in your area should be enough.
On the plus side, some states such as Utah, are looking at making laws that state parents can let their kids play outside safely. It’s too bad that it takes a law to allow something that used to be assumed, but that’s where we’re at.
Get Your Kids Outside
Encourage your kids to be more independent by getting them to play outside, both on their own and with you. If you don’t have a yard, this may mean finding a park or playground where they can play, and will take more of your time.
Taking your kids for a hike is another good way to get them outside. Give them room to roam ahead or behind you as appropriate to the situation. Don’t make them stick right by your side without a good reason.
As kids get older, find more ways for them to go outside without you. If your neighborhood is safe, as many are, just encourage them to go play outside. Make sure they have toys that are fun for them to use outside.
My son, for example, loves remote control anything. Remote control toys are best used outdoors for the most part, unless they’re just too small for that.
Bikes, skates, balls and so forth are classics that are always good for kids to play with outside. Give them a good supply of outdoor toys, and playing out there becomes much more appealing.
Help Your Kids Build Skills
Independence isn’t just about playing outside. You should also give your kids the skills they need to do interesting things without you.
What that means depends on what your kids want to do. Your child might be artistic or they might enjoy building things. They may be into electronics.
Do things with your kids that help them build up the skills they need to take their interests farther. While you don’t want to overdo scheduled activities, the occasional class in their interests is a good thing.
Learn with your kids also. Make things with them. Teach them some of your skills, or pick up a new one with them.
I helped my son build a computer, for example. He did as much of the work as possible, and did online research as necessary. I helped with the build and with troubleshooting. We had lots of fun together. It was a huge boost to his confidence.
Set Appropriate Limits
Some people badmouth kids who are allowed to go out and about on their own because they assume they’re troublemakers. Don’t assume that encouraging your kids to be more independent means you don’t have to enforce limits. Of course you do.
The big ones, of course, are to respect other people and to respect their property. If your kids are doing something that might injure someone or damage someone else’s property, there’s a problem.
There’s a difference between letting your kids run wild and encouraging them to be independent, after all. That difference is in your expectations for their behavior. Set your expectations high.
Give your kids solid rules for how to deal with playing in the street. The old cry of “car!” when a car is approaching is great when there’s a group of kids playing and a car comes along. Make sure they know that they have to clear the street when a car comes along. Lots of games are far more fun for kids if they can play in the street, but they need to respect the primary use of the street. It’s safer for your kids and much less frustrating for neighbors.
Don’t let your kids play in the street unless you know they can handle it. If the kids are too young or don’t pay enough attention to traffic, it’s not safe. And of course, if the cars go too fast through your area, it’s probably not a good idea to include the street in their play. Use your judgment.
How far you let your kids wander will depend on their ages and the general safety of the area you live in. My kids love going to the store for ice cream, which is about a mile away. The older two can do this on their own if they like. The youngest must have one of the older ones with her.
Further along is a park they can go to, but they must use the crosswalks at the lights. I’ve seen too many close calls by that park to want to cross at the crosswalk that doesn’t have so much as a stop sign myself, never mind letting my kids do it. Too many drivers fail to stop for pedestrians in that crosswalk. The stoplights make it a little safer.
Teach Them To Be Safe
Beyond setting appropriate rules comes teaching your kids to be safe in general.
This is not “stranger danger.” There are times when talking to a stranger is entirely appropriate.
Teach them to be aware of their surroundings. Teach them how to deal with problems they may encounter. You can’t teach them everything, but when you talk about the more likely situations they’ll face, they have a better chance of dealing with other situations as well.
Teach Your Kids That You Trust Them
If you want your kids to be trustworthy, you have to trust them. This takes years of building up so that they’re confident in themselves and in your trust.
This starts as soon as they’re old enough to play alone, especially outside. Don’t insist upon being a part of everything they do.
When they’re playing in the yard or in the park, watch from a distance. Don’t be right there to help them climb. If they ask for help, that’s fine. That’s trust.
As they get older, set up rules that are based on trust, both when they’re out and about and at home. Do what needs to be done to keep your kids safe online, but trust them as well.
This means don’t check up on everything they do. You don’t have to check their texts daily when they get to that age, not unless you have a reason to mistrust them or if there’s a known problem you’re helping with.
I’ve had occasion to check my kids’ texts due to a suspected problem. I explained clearly what the situation was, so they knew I wasn’t being arbitrary.
At the same time, you want them to trust you. If your kids come to you with a problem, talk it out reasonably with them. Don’t get mad right away. Listen to the whole story. Discuss where things went wrong, and discipline appropriately. Done right, you’ll increase trust by not going overboard.
I’ve had to help my oldest with problems where she had to share texts with me to help with a situation she did not know how to deal with. We even had to consider whether to get the school involved. I was very glad that she trusted us enough that she could come to me with such a problem.
Give Them Responsibilities
Having responsibilities helps kids to be more independent. From helping to load the dishwasher when they’re small, to helping prepare dishes and keep the house and yard up as they get older, responsibilities help kids become more independent.
You should also make them responsible for their own homework as much as possible. Help them build the habit of starting on time. Don’t help them unless they need it, and even they don’t just hand the answer to them.
It’s often difficult to give your kids responsibilities. Teaching them to do chores is harder than doing it yourself during the learning curve. Some kids want you right there when they have homework to do or have a difficult time learning to manage their time. Give it time, and it will get easier for all of you.