The Independent Child: Tips On How To Teach Your Child To Be Self-Reliant

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by Tracey Matthews, Knox County Schools Family and Community Engagement Supervisor
Contributing Writer: Eliza Norrell, Communications Intern, University of Tennessee

         

Many parents know that resiliency builds confidence in children. One of the best ways to prepare our children for many of life’s circumstances is to help them practice self-reliance and the ability to help themselves. Developing your child’s ability to handle situations will make your life easier as a parent, and also better prepare your son or daughter for adulthood. Allowing your children at a young age to begin making independent decisions, solve their own problems and encourage themselves can result in confident children who will likely grow up to become successfully independent adults. Consider these resilience-building exercises as a start:

Thorns and Roses

On the ride home from school or at dinner, ask your child to share the best (roses) and worst (thorns) parts of his or her day. A good tip is to remind them to mention two roses for every thorn. This will encourage the practice of placing more focus on positive events than negative ones. Also, try having them consider the bright side of a thorn (or the rose attached to the thorn). For example, earning a low grade on a spelling test may be a thorn, but the fact that it was a better grade than the last time might be the rose. This daily activity teaches young people to articulate their feelings and put day-to-day events into perspective. Don’t forget to share the highs and lows of your day so that your children learn to listen and remember that adults face challenges in their daily lives, too.

“Yellow Light” Your Advice

When your child comes to you with a problem—he is struggling in math, or her friendship is eroding—slow down your impulse to offer advice. Instead, ask questions that encourage discussion and brainstorming, and guide them toward developing their own problem solving. By directing children toward independent thinking, confidence in his or her ability to take care of things without constant parental intervention is a lifetime “gift.”

The “What If” Game

Another way to build your child’s ability to solve problems independently and build resiliency while using their imagination is by asking lots of “what if” questions. This exercise can be fun, serious and thought provoking, depending on the type of questions you ask. Demonstrate the importance of “thinking on your feet” by asking questions like, “What if we got separated in a store or other building?” or “What would you do if you lost your cell phone and couldn’t remember my cell number?” For younger children, you want to ensure they know their address, phone number and when to call 911. For older children, we should include questions that involve being in compromising positions. “What if all of your friends were drinking or smoking, and they insisted that you try it, too?” These answers might require additional parental guidance and assistance.

Child-Adult Conversations and Exchanges

Teach your children the importance of appropriate assertiveness when dealing with adults. Remind your child that while they should always be respectful, they should not be afraid to ask other adults questions or to respectfully question adult responses. This can be particularly important for children when asking questions in class. Interacting with authority figures like teachers, coaches, friends of parents, older relatives and other adults in public teaches children how to be assertive without being aggressive and how to “be heard.” Young people should not be intimidated by the thought of verbally interacting with adults, and their confidence will soar when they experience successful outcomes through adult conversations or exchanges.

Talk Logistics

As your child matures, require him or her to assume the responsibility of decision making and accomplishing tasks that are traditionally completed by an adult. These tasks could include scheduling and recording his/her appointments with limited assistance, researching and planning the use of public transportation to the mall, or comparing price and quality/features of a desired purchase. When birthdays roll around, how about your child outline the plans, discuss them with you and assume much of the responsibility for executing the pre-party preparation? These exercises teach children practical skills that will help them in so many other facets of life. We encourage you to begin teaching children skills of independence and resiliency starting at a very early age. These simple, everyday activities should help start the process. We invite you to share your great ideas with us! If we can be of any assistance to you and your family, please contact the Knox County Schools Family and Community Engagement Department at 594-9525 or the Family Resource Center at 594-1192.

 

Tracey Matthews currently serves as Knox County Schools’ District-wide Family and Community Engagement Supervisor. In this position, Tracey has been entrusted with the responsibility to facilitate the district’s course toward building stronger and lasting partnerships between families, schools, and the community. For more information, please visit the Family and Community Engagement at knoxschools.org.

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