Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Allowing Children Appropriate Independence

As children get older, they naturally desire to do more and more on their own. They want to feel that they have control in their lives. Parents can allow children to feel this by permitting them to make some decisions and to do more by themselves. For example, this could mean allowing a two-year-old to pick out his/her outfit. For an older child, this could mean allowing him/her the choice of doing homework first or having TV time first. As children get older, parents should allow their children more freedom in making choices.

As children make more of their own choices, they are able to learn how to make responsible decisions that lead to good outcomes. Children who are allowed choices build self-confidence and learn to be responsible and accountable for the decisions they make. Children who are not given this freedom are going to have a difficult time making wise decisions when they are not with mom and dad. They will struggle with indecisiveness and overdependence on others.

Now as parents we do have to be careful, because children do still need to make choices within limits. I'm not suggesting that you just let your children run free with no boundaries or limitations. Without limits, your child will not learn appropriate self-control. As parents, we have to find balance between the limits and rules we give our children and the freedom and independence we allow them.

Dr. Laurence Steinberg in his book The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting gives parents some useful suggestions as they try to find this balance. These suggestions come directly from his book on pages 109-111.
  • Pick the right battles. Avoid getting into power struggles over little things. When your child's choice really doesn't matter, try to allow your child to make the decision.
  • Preapprove your child's choices. Limit your child's alternatives to ones you approve of.
  • Praise your child's decisions. After your child makes a good choice, make sure your tell her. This builds self-assurance.
  • Help your child think through decisions rather than always making them for him. Help your child see why one choice may be better than another. Then still allow your child to make the choice.
  • Let your child learn from mistakes. Children have to learn to live with the consequences of their decisions.
Allowing your children to make their own choices will help them to become productive, confident, capable adults. How have you helped your children to make wise choices? In what ways do you think parents become too overly involved in their children's lives?

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