How Do I Get My Child to be More Independent? A Step-by-Step Guide

Do you ask yourself, “How Do I Get My Child to be More Independent?” 

Your kid is thirsty, you get up and get him a drink. Your kid’s room is a mess, you clean it. You are your child’s maid, housekeeper and waitress. When is this supposed to end? Perhaps you woke up one day and realized your fifteen-year-old doesn’t know how to use the microwave or do the dishes. Maybe you have a ten-year-old who doesn’t know how to make his own lunch or a five-year-old who refuses to get himself dressed. The question pounds in your head, “How do I get my child to be more independent?”

Do your kids struggle to do things for themselves? Do you wonder, ""How do I get my child to be more independent?" Here is a step-by-step guide by a child therapist.

As parents, we set the pace for our children’s independence. If you want your child to be more independent, you have to set up that expectation in advance. Here are some simple steps to get you started:

#1 Are you the barrier to your child’s independence?

For starters, you have to ask yourself – do you feel uncomfortable having your kids do things for themselves? Do you feel guilty when your kids have to clean their own room, do their own laundry or make their own lunch?

If you answered yes to this, it is important that you dig deeper. Usually, this guilt stems from your own childhood. You can explore this concept further here. You won’t be able to teach your kids independence if you feel guilty about it.

Once you get over the guilt, let’s move on to step #2.

#2 What should you expect your kids to be doing?

Some parents, myself included, often forget that their kids are old enough to be doing things for themselves. I remember completely forgetting that I should be teaching my first child to put her own clothes on. This thought didn’t occur to me until she was way into toddlerhood. My third child was taught that super early more out of necessity and survival than anything else.

Sometimes as parents we get into routines and we forget that we need to be moving on to the next stage. Take a look around and see what other kids are doing at the same age. If you aren’t sure, ask your friends and family. Every child develops at a different pace, but there are some major skills that most kids should have at particular ages.

If you are unsure, ask your kids to do a particular task and see how well they do it and how long it takes them to complete it. Did they do it well? Did they do it in a reasonable amount of time? If yes and yes – then they can do that task independently.

If the answer is no, do they need some hands on teaching or are they not physically or emotionally mature enough to handle the task?

Are they an “I can’t do it!” kind of kid? Read my article on how to get kids to do things themselves, when they don’t believe they can.

#3 Stop doing everything for your kids

The first step in getting your children to be more independent is for you to stop doing everything for them. If I had someone following me around doing everything for me, I wouldn’t be independent either. Ask yourself:

Can they dress themselves?
Can they pick out their own clothes?
Can they get their own drink?
Can they clear up their own plate?
Can they clean up their own room?
Can they get their own snack?
Can they do at least one family chore?
Can they do their own school projects?
Can they problem-solve their own peer conflict?
Can they make their own lunch?

If not, should they be? Can you teach them? Instead of doing it for them, show them how to do it.

#4 Set up new expectations

Let your kids know that as they get older they will have to do more and more things for themselves. You don’t want to suddenly change your expectations without some conversation with your kids.

At first, I felt really guilty when I had my ten-year-old daughter make her own school lunch. Especially since I was still making lunch for my two younger children. I sat down with her and explained it like this:

“As you get older I want to teach you how to do things for yourself. As a good mom, it is my job to slowly grow your abilities and support your independence. When I have you do things for yourself, it is not because I am a lazy mom or I don’t care about you, it is because I am teaching you life skills. If I didn’t start having you do these things for yourself, you would be completely lost as an adult. Sometimes you are able to do things independently that your siblings cannot. It would be easier for me to just make three lunches, but I don’t make yours because you are at the stage where I need to teach you how to do it yourself.”

#5 Make it easy for them to succeed

Once your kids know what is expected of them, make the task a bit easier. Arrange your house in such a way that facilitates independence.

Here are some suggestions:

Keep snacks that they are allowed to eat on a low shelf
Keep kid friendly cleaning supplies accessible to them
Have laundry baskets in each room
Keep stools in areas where kids need to reach
Keep arts and crafts in easily accessible areas for independent play
Put outfits in bins for young kids to self-dress

For a complete article on how to set up your home to encourage independence click here.

#6 Constantly reassess what your kids can be doing independently

Every day your kids are growing more capable and skilled. Frequently revisit what tasks they are capable of doing independently. This will change all the time. Should they be helping with their laundry? Should they be learning how to cook? Skill building doesn’t end until they are out of the house.

Getting your child more independent is the best gift you can give as a parent

Having your kids do things for themselves doesn’t make you a lazy or unloving parent. It means you care. It means you don’t want your college-aged children coming back home because they can’t cook or clean for themselves. It means you don’t want to have your adult children taking a crash course on life because they weren’t given the skills as children. It means you care enough to let them fly solo.

Do you have some tips on how you are fostering independence with your kids? Share your tips with other parents.

Do you know someone who can benefit from learning how to get their child to be more independent? Share this article with them.



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