Nurturing Independence: It’s Harder Than It Seems

So, we’re nearing the end of term and my middle baby, Pip is excitedly preparing for a residential trip tomorrow. I’ve done my stuff, rustled up the kit list and bought a few surprise snacks to stash away when we’re packing. Trouble is, I’m not sure I’m ready for it. Three days away from home, and two whole nights.

Over the last few days, we’ve been tentatively discussing the details, mostly to work out whether Pip is mentally prepared for what two nights away from home looks like; we’ve discussed the sleeping arrangements, running order for the day and the activities on offer each day. We’ve talked about hygiene, reminders to change knickers and things, and also what will be on the menu for the days. I’m hoping that chatting through the whole plan, and addressing any worries now will help pave way for a smooth drop off tomorrow morning, without any tears (well, until I drive away, that is).

It reminds me of those early days when my babies started nursery; that awful feeling of dropping off a crying child (number three was particularly known for the emotion drop-offs) and then driving down the road, with tears streaming down my face, feeling like the worst mother in the world ever for the entire day. Meanwhile, baby has got over the trauma in approximately 4 seconds after the door was closed.

It’s made me think of other ways to help foster independence in the children (and maybe, just maybe make my life a bit easier?). Here’s what I came up with:

Giving the children responsibilities

So recently, whilst buried under my own personal avalanche of washing, something somewhere snapped and I decided to get the children (and husband) to put their own washing away. Now, it worked to varying degrees – some was beautifully put away as it was handed over, some was stuffed into the cupboards, and some moved rather annoyingly from the pile on the bed to the floor several times (husband’s). Once child also relishes in pairing socks for me (hooray!). Carly takes a slightly different tack, in that she plays beautiful rags to riches princess stories to encourage her children to help clean the kitchen, so I’m going to try that one next. Point here is, ask the children to take responsibility for something, and don’t wait until they’re teenagers (and therefore disgusted by the idea they might actually have to help). We might just be pleasantly surprised.

Step Back and Let Them Do It

Ok, so this one is HARD. Especially when they’re trailing toothpaste across the sink, or spilling flour everywhere, or putting their pants on back-to-front, or refusing to get out the damn car when we arrive at school, but they need to learn. I have a child who refuses to conform to norms of dressing, but in reality, walking down the road with a child wearing a headdress, jogging bottoms and princess shoes isn’t actually going to hurt anyone (and will also provide plenty of entertaining photographic evidence – my personal favourite combo was a read velvet dress, gorilla mask and red wellies). Also, the thought of not being a pack horse, laden with bags, coats and ‘junk models’ aka ‘junk the teachers couldn’t fit in their recycling bins’ is quite appealing.

Also, think about whether it’s really a problem to say ‘yes’ instead of the default ‘no’ – pick your battles, and try to take a step back. I try and ask myself every time “Is this fight really worth it” and then roll with the scary outfit, or lack of coat, or flour coated kitchen. Just please don’t be judgy if my children look like the Village People next time we bump into each other.

This leads me on nicely to the next one…

Let them make mistakes

In a scary world, where the pressure to be perfect is crushing, teach them it’s perfectly normal and ok to make mistakes. Psychology suggests that learning about the consequences of action and reward at an early age helps lay the foundations for coping mechanisms as they grow older. It also suggests that they only learn negativity in making mistakes from their parents and other people: ‘Children only dread making mistakes as a result of their parents’ responses,’ says family psychologist Dr Randy Cale. ‘For example, if we show anger or disappointment.’

Teach the problem solving, don’t always give them the answers

Sometimes it can be so easy (and quick) just to give the children an answer, instead of listening to them whilst they rationalise it in their own minds. I can think of so many examples when I’ve just done that or when the older children have jumped in with the answer, before the littlest gets there. I’m going to make a real effort with them all just to take more time out (with homework, for example- no more Sunday night rush-jobs) so that they can ponder on in more time, and more 1:1 time to talk about things they are learning. Just need to work out where to squeeze that one in.

Anyway, there’s my waffle about how I’m going to try to encourage independence in my lot. I’d love to hear your thoughts about how you nurture your littles’ independence, and any tips you might have. This parenting lark is HARD. Anyway, just off to finish packing for camp tomorrow…I’ll try not to cry at drop off (but I’m not promising anything).

Happy Tuesday you lovely lot, Tahlia x

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