How to Encourage Independence and Confidence in Children

Three Methods:Modeling IndependenceHelping Independence GrowProviding and Loosening Boundaries

Most parents and guardians experience a time when they're torn between wanting their children to remain a baby forever but also wondering when they will be independent enough to do things on their own. In particular, mothers tend to take on a greater role of responsibility for children, one that can often fail to shift from doing everything to expecting more of the children. Continuing to do everything for a child stunts emotional growth and slows independence.

In reality, at every age children are both trying to gain their own independence, and will at the same time, be somewhat to even greatly afraid of the separation such independence presents. It is important for parents and guardians to encourage the transitions to greater independence, gradually but genuinely, as the children grow. Your role is one of easing fear, showing what is possible and providing a sense of security that, no matter what your children try, you're right there alongside them.

Method 1
Modeling Independence

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    Model independence. In teaching your children independence, first remember to be independent yourself. There is a healthy balance that is needed in all of your relationships that helps you to maintain your own independence and individuality. If you are able to withstand being separate, your children will learn this from you.
    • Problems will arise if you are an overly intense parent or guardian. For example, the so-called helicopter parent is one who cannot abide to be apart from the child but hovers over his or her every action, to "be there" and to "ensure safety". This is often borne of one's own anxiety or worries, and will often require personal soul searching to overcome. Children subjected to such parenting can grow up to be anxious and afraid of independence. Do your best to manage your own fears and not pass them on to your children.
    • Look at what you're modeling to your children in your chief relationship with your spouse or partner. Co-dependent, enmeshed or subservient behaviors with the other caregiver can send helpless signals to children, which can in turn teach them to be afraid of being separate too. For the sake of yourself and the children, such behaviors need to be overcome.
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    Teach your children that it is okay to be separate. Help your children to see that it's both acceptable and occasionally desirable to sometimes be alone, to peacefully disagree with another’s opinion, or to want personal time.
    • Aim to model healthy conflict in front of your children. While yelling and blame have no part in child raising, arguing for something that matters in a calm and moderated manner is something every human being needs to learn as a useful skill. And there will be times when you slip up––rather than pretending it never happened, always apologize. If a child is old enough, also explain yourself.
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    Search for opportunities to show examples of your own individual small accomplishments. An example could be something as simple as struggling to open a jar, but not giving up, and striving to get it open without any help. Draw attention to the experience by saying such words as: “Look, mommy tried really hard, didn't give up and I did it!" Your children will then see that you try to accomplish things alone––and very often succeed.
    • Some children have a tendency to give up quickly. It is even more important to model perseverance with such children, and to provide them with encouragement to keep trying. Do not criticize their efforts; instead encourage their growth through repeated attempts. Eventually success at a task will prevail, with repeated learning and your support.
    • When you do not succeed at something, model coping behavior––this is as important as the self-praise for success. Teach them through your actions that failure is not only survivable, but a spur to doing something else or giving it yet another go based on the lessons learned.
    • Remind your children that if they ever feel they cannot do things alone, you are there and will assist them. Remember though, this assistance can range from physical help to only offering verbal encouragement because you know that their particular task at hand is achievable and they will benefit greatly if they do it alone.

Method 2
Helping Independence Grow

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    Observe your children at play and in everyday life. Pay close attention to their likes and dislikes. Look for opportunities to talk with them about what they are doing or playing with. Spot the ways that they can improve their play by simple changes that they can make themselves. These changes can be as easy as adding a book for a toy car ramp or where to place their feet as they learn how to pedal their bikes.
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    Request your child's input and advice on small tasks. Your child will learn that his or her opinion is important to you. Following through with his or her suggestions helps the child's healthy internally nourished self-esteem to grow (rather than the ineffective externally imposed boosterism). It is then your job to encourage your child's suggestions and to make him or her a very valuable asset to the task at hand.
    • Say things like: “I’m so glad that you thought of putting the bread in this basket. This will make dinner so much easier.“
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    Include your children in everyday household chores that involve their own stuff. It is much easier for children and for that matter, anyone to identify and want to help with things that they care about and are familiar with. Even if it sometimes means that you may have to go back and “really clean” the areas that you have asked them to be in charge of, passing on the expectations of responsibility for one's own things is worth the extra effort.
    • When they are finished with their meal, be sure to encourage them to put their dishes in an appropriate place––the sink or the dishwasher depending on your family.
    • If you want them to clean their rooms, begin with reachable goals, like asking them where the books go and then let them follow by putting them away. The goal is to show them that you entrust them with small independent decision making when it comes to their own belongings. This tip can extend into personal hygiene also.
    • Help in the house can begin from as young as 3. Small tasks at first, then increase the challenges as the child grows older.

Method 3
Providing and Loosening Boundaries

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    Set up both structured and unstructured alone time. Let your children pick where they want to be within the already set boundaries and what they want to do. This could include a variety of structured and safe choices. This is a time when they don’t have to share anything, or talk with anyone but merely learn how to independently entertain themselves. If presented with enthusiasm on your behalf, this can be viewed as exciting to a young child.
    • An example could be: “It's me-time and you can sit on the couch or at the table and read a book, draw or play with puzzles.” Being alone tends to be seen as a negative thing because it is so often used as “time-out” or “go to your room by yourself”. Sadly, this simply confuses the growing child who equates solitude with badness. If you encourage alone time as good time, you can quickly buy yourself space when you really need a break, and it won't have negative repercussions.
    • This is an opportunity for you to present the idea of being alone as a positive aspect in learning self-reliance skills and in life generally and not as a punishment.
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    Help your children to see boredom as a healthy reaction, one which teaches them to reach within and find solutions. It is not your priority to alleviate a child's boredom––your priority is to provide a safe home environment in which a child explores his or her imagination and unlocks ways to personally resolve boredom. If you constantly remove that chance, it can be harder for such a child to self-soothe and find internal outlets to relieve boredom, possibly leaving the door open to risky behaviors. Give yourself a break and allow time for boredom too.
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    Extend the unstructured boundaries gradually. As your children grow older, expect more independence from them and give them more unstructured time. Your trust in your children will go a long way to helping them mature healthily, and they will view their independence as a privilege, not something to be afraid of.


  • Remember that in teaching independence, you are not teaching selfishness. We are all in need of love, respect, trust, and security and these things can be achieved through social contact with their family members and friends.

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