Developing Independence In Our Children
Few things about raising my children scare me more than balancing the need for security in today's world and teaching them to grow up to be independent women. Independence is a vital and exciting part of growing up. Allowing them to develop pride in their competence, experiencing challenges and surviving, experimenting with risks and their own way of doing things all help them gain more control over what happens to them. These are all essential if our children are to grow up to become independent responsible adults. It is critical that our children have new freedoms and responsibilities, as and when they are ready to cope with them.
The problem is the outside world has become a very dangerous place. We, as parents are naturally concerned about giving our children greater freedom to play and travel without adult supervision. Because of these very real dangers, instead of encouraging our children to go off on their own and experiment, giving out responsibility and freedom gradually, we supervise, chaperone, contain, and watch them like hawks. Fear of things like traffic accidents and molestation mean we drive our kids to school and friends' houses. We sometimes discourage them from playing in the front yard never mind the street or the park down the block.
When our children are safely indoors, it frees us from worry and gives us a wonderful feeling of relief. To add virtue to our self-interest, we tell ourselves it is in the best interest of our children. When that child has diabetes, it's just one less time that our child, and their condition, is out of our direct control. But we have to ask ourselves, is it really in the best interest of our children? Might we be losing a proper sense of balance between security and independence? When we issue constant reminders of the 'dangers of strangers' we get in the way of our children's willingness and ability to go places by themselves, even when it's a place we are willing to let them go.
We often give our children mixed messages about how capable they are or should be. We sometimes do it backwards. When they are little we give them lots of independence and choices about things that may give them too much control over what they would like to do. This gives them a fair amount of power before they really know how to manage it. Now I'm sure this doesn't pertain to your household so take a look at some of your friends. You watch how their toddlers act and wonder who's running the asylum. Now when our children approach and reach adolescence, a time when they need to feel confident and be taking back some of that control, we tell them it's a mean cruel world out there. This in effect tells them that they can't be trusted at a time in their lives when that's just what we should be doing.
The single best way to acquire the skills needed for independence and coping is through experience. Experience also builds common sense and lessens fear. For example, if we walked more with our children when they were young by the time they reached adolescence they would have developed 'road sense' and a healthy attitude toward traffic. If we are out and about more with our children when they are young they would develop a better sense of what is normal and what is strange behavior and be able to react more confidently and sensibly. Allowing ourselves and our children to confront these situations in a controlled manner keeps them in proportion. Not confronting them only makes them scarier. Staying indoors and riding in a car are not the best way to acquire life skills.
Balancing Rights and Responsibilities
Independence is all about gaining self-reliance and responsibility. When we give our children more responsibility, we should also add more rights to go along with it so they learn that both are part of growing up and can be proud that it's happening. Any time we give our children more rights, we should also add more responsibility to balance everything out. It will help them from becoming self-centered. A good time to add these might be birthdays or other events that acknowledge their increasing maturity. This way, responsibilities are not resented, but accepted with pride as signs of growing up. Getting started doing this is fairly easy. Make a list of tasks you think they can be responsible for. Feeding the dog, doing the dishes, or whatever you think is appropriate for their age. Balance these new responsibilities with new rights. A later bedtime, more allowance, whatever you think is fair. Then step back and give them the opportunity to accomplish their task. Don't make approval conditional on success especially early on. The old college try is often a great teacher. Don't hover over them while they are doing it. Leave them to their task as a sign of trust. Don't have too high expectations. And finally, let go! Gradually step back and allow them to increase their independence.
This whole concept may take a little while for everyone to master, our children and us. However, Independence is a critical life skill for our children. It is our responsibility to teach it to them. Our right for accepting this responsibility is to spoil our grandchildren.
About the Author
Russell Turner is the father of a 10 year old diabetic daughter. After she was diagnosed he soon discovered he could find all sorts of medical information on the internet. What he couldn't find was how to prepare his child and family for living with this disease.