We all want children to grow up to be confident, independent problem solvers. No one wants their child to be an unemployed adult who lives at home and plays video games. No one wants their child to be an adult who isn’t able to socially interact with others. No one wants their child to grow into an adult who constantly has conflict with others. In recent years, the news has bombarded parents with scary stories about the dangers surrounding children, making parents hesitate to allow their children to try new things alone. And then, the virus that shall not be named hit. Suddenly children had to give up social activities and normal, developmentally appropriate, independent activities to stay safe. Now that the world is beginning to resume normal activities, it’s even more important that parents foster a sense of confident independence in their children to make up for lost time. This can be done in many different ways, without endangering their lives.
Plan for Independence
It seems crazy to sit down and plan out how to be independent, but have a conversation with your kids about what it means to be independent. Make a list of activities that they feel that they can do on their own, and activities they would like to work on. You might be surprised at what they would like to do, and what they are capable of! Make sure when you respond to ideas from your children that you are conveying trust and confidence in them, and not scaring them about danger in activities or responding with negativity. Help them with personal goal setting, such as earning money or learning a new skill.
Spontaneous, Open-Ended Play
It seems contrary to the point above, but DON’T plan all activities for your kids! Let them find ways to be creative in play without giving them ideas or hovering over them. Even big kids love to make tents out of blankets and towels, paint, etc. Some of the best inventions and creations have come out of boredom and need. Don’t swoop in to entertain them!
Screen Time Limits
It’s tempting to let kids watch hours of TV, or play video games during the summer time. Strictly enforce screen time – and remember that a screen is a screen. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tablet, a laptop, a TV screen, or projector. None of those devices will help your child develop strong social skills. What they will do is help your child become addicted to screen time, get cranky, and be constantly fighting with siblings or friends. Be strict – keep screen time to the bare minimum.
Let Them Play Outside
It’s important for children to play outside and to interact with others. Talk to your child about where they may safely play outside, who they may play with, and what to do if someone wants to talk to them and you aren’t right at their side. When children are older, you can even give them a watch and tell them what time you expect them to come back into the house. Letting children safely bike, walk, and ride around the neighborhood – on your terms – teaches your child that you trust them to do what they are told, and helps them feel confident.
Your Child Makes the Arrangements
Children are not in the habit of using the telephone. Using a telephone is an important life skill that will serve them for a lifetime. Have your child call his or her friend’s parent to make arrangements for gatherings. Just make sure you are close by to ensure that they are making arrangements that work for you as well. Not only are you teaching them how to use a telephone, but also how to respectfully speak to adults and how to think through all of the planning needed to do a particular activity.
Start young children with chores, and gradually increase their level of responsibility as they grow. It’s easier to clean the kitchen yourself, and you style their hair more nicely than they do, but this is how kids learn. Have your children help load and unload the dishwasher, set the table, sweep the floors, do their own hair, rake, mow, and even do their own laundry. A child in 4th or 5th grade is very capable of sorting laundry, turning the machine on using the proper settings, drying their clothing, and putting the clothing away. With all chores, it’s important that parents check in and correct when the job is not being done satisfactorily. It’s also important for you to ensure that it is completed so they know that chores are an expectation.
Talking to your children about important topics such as puberty, reproduction, religious beliefs, and core family values should be a regular topic of conversation. Having ongoing conversations in an age-appropriate manner helps children know that you see them as an independent, mature individual. You both may want to squirm, but this is information that they need to hear from you, and it helps build trust and confidence. Keep talking!
It’s so tempting to stay close to your child as they play, both independently and with others. Parents mean well – they want to be available to keep their child safe, give them ideas to avoid boredom, or keep children from fighting. When your child sees you constantly available, it makes them feel as if they need you to provide them with entertainment or problem solving. Resist the urge to give kids toys or games when they are bored, or to step in and solve minor conflicts between friends and siblings. Teach them that they are capable of being problem solvers, and you trust them to do so!