Parents are often preoccupied with the “now” of childcare, and it is forgivable that foresight is lost in the melee of fulfilling their child’s daily needs. There are, meanwhile, forward-looking measures integrated into daily routines that can (almost) reassure parents their children will pick up the virtue of independence. These neither have to be harsh nor uptight.
Teaching a child independence starts with the small chores. So-called “over-parenting,” the tendency to tolerate children’s every caprice, or to perform tasks—down to the minute ones of the daily routine—has been seen in direct opposition to austere and strict parenting. It is assumed that this more understanding stance produces an environment of warmth and affection children will fondly look back on and will help them grow in love as adults.
While this parenting style does produce, in later years, memories of a loved childhood, it also neglects to teach children basic skills and initiative. Parents who have “over-done” their jobs might be hard-pressed to get their children to clean their rooms, for instance, or have them help around the house by simply picking up after themselves. This could end in frustration for parents, who might find themselves nagging their children in the future to adopt these habits of independence.
One school of thought advises parents to take themselves out of the equation from time to time: summer camps are excellent examples of leaving children to their own devices in certain situations. These environments cultivate habits of independence through a peer environment. As long as the activities therein speak to the child’s passions and interests, he or she will find a way to get along, abide by the camp’s rules and expected responsibilities, and get a taste of life without too much supervision.
Another way is to simply be uncompromising about it. Parents should learn to delegate some household chores to their kids and make them realize that reward or punishment shouldn’t be the motivation in accomplishing tasks. The ultimate lesson is that independence the normal way of life.
Jonathan B. Lauter, M.D., is an accomplished psychiatrist and a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, who is certified in both general and child and adolescent psychiatry. A clinician at Refuah Health Center in Spring Valley, New York, he also runs a private practice in Manhattan. For more articles on child and adolescent psychology, visit this blog.