Michael J. Prince, B.A., Psychology


A Declaration of Independence

by Elaine M. Gibson

From the day a child is born, the separation process begins. A child craves independence and grows strong because of it. We do our children a disservice if we think it is nice and kind to do everything FOR them. We all need a helping hand at times, but children need a hand that shows them how to take care of themselves.

Dependence Destroys Relationships

Perhaps it is our heritage, but people in this country have never been satisfied with dependence. The colonists started a revolution in order to gain independence. Cultural or human nature, our children expect independence as well. When parents teach a child to be independent and self-reliant, they gain the child's appreciation, respect, and love. When parents try to do everything for a child in hopes of gaining the child's love and gratitude, they produce a dependent child filled with resentment, anger, and hostility.

Independence is Better

This is a difficult concept for some parents to accept. They enjoy doing for their young children. A child who is dependent stays close and even learns to let the parent do everything. Besides doing FOR, these parents also try to absorb the consequences of real life for their child. They would rather help than see the child suffer the consequences of the child's own behavior.

"I'll do it for you. I'll make it better this time." Of course there will always be another time. The child will either choose to be dependent and will remain so forever or the child will struggle and fight for power over his own life, often excluding the parents.

By elementary school years, the parents will begin to see this disaster of their own making. The problems become intense by teenage years. Parents can be faced with irresponsible teen, an emotionally detached teen, or a teen in rebellion.

The solution: Avoid the problem of dependency by training for independence.

Step One: Let children make choices and hold them accountable for their choice.

When children are allowed to make choices, they must also be allowed to experience the consequences of their choice. If they choose a hamburger and wish they had the chicken nuggets instead, they can then choose to eat the hamburger or go hungry. It's a legitimate choice. If they choose not to wear a sweater, let them be cold. It won't hurt them and next time, they'll make a better choice.

Step Two: Show respect for a child's struggle.

Don't rush to do something for a child when they are having difficulty. Encourage first. Encouragement is difficult to do well. If we say, "You can do it. That's easy!" , we are setting the child up to feel bad. If he doesn't manage it, he feels incompetent because it's supposed to be easy. If the child accomplishes something "easy", it's no big deal. There is no reason to be proud.

To encourage a child, express faith that the child will accomplish what she sets out to do. "I know you are frustrated now. That is a difficult thing to learn. You'll get it." "It took me forever to learn to tie my shoes. My knots always came undone."

Step Three: Take time for training.

A child can learn many things if parents take time to teach in small steps and allow time for learning. Training time should never be in a pressure situation such a time limits. Children can learn to dress themselves at two years of age if parents provide tube socks, pull on pants, pull on shirts, and velcro sneakers. A two year old will dress and undress ten times a day but by the age of three, the child can do it "by myself".

Step Four: Offer assistance without criticism.

Ask the child, "Do you need help?" If so, explain how again without doing for the child more than is necessary. Patience is a wonderful teacher.

Step Five: Expect children to do for themselves.

Always ask, could my child do this for himself? If the answer is "yes", then let the child do it. Put this motto on the refrigerator. "Don't do for your children what they can do for themselves." Children fulfill our expectations. Refuse to feel guilty when you allow a child to carry his dishes to the sink, do his own ironing, pack her own lunch. The child ate off the dishes, wore the clothes, and needs the lunch. Mothers already know how to do those chores and plenty more. Children need to learn.

If necessary, declare independence day in your house today. Your children probably won't thank you for it now. In fact, you will hear complaints daily, but they will appreciate and respect you for the rest of their lives. Independent children are happier children.