“I want to do it by myself’ is a common refrain among children of all ages - whether it’s a toddler who wants to put on her shoes by herself or an older child who wants to travel by public bus or auto. As parents we often find ourselves in the unenviable position of having to make choices without really being sure what is right for our children. When do we let go and when do we hold them back? It would be great if we could have an instruction manual!
Being independent is a very deep need of every human being and hence children are constantly working towards their independence. Yet in our culture we often view ourselves as ‘good parents’ when we do things for our child such as fill their water bottles, pack their school bags, take over their projects to make sure they are done well or rush to school if they forgot to take a particular note book. We often continue doing things for our children even as they become teenagers or young adults. The question to ask ourselves is whether the ‘help’ we are giving our children is actually helping them in their development or harming them. Will they be able to develop confidence in their own abilities when we make them so dependent on us? How will they learn to take responsibility? Will they have the courage to take risks too when necessary - a very important skill in life?
While reflecting on these questions it would be useful to look at what comes in the way of allowing our children to be independent. These are the reasons or beliefs we often have:
We believe that we can show love for our children by doing things for them.
We want to keep our children safe.
Many times, we want things to be done in our way, for it to be perfect.
In the rush of the day it is easier for us to do, than guide the child.
Our home environment is not designed for children to be independent- e.g.: The water filter may too high for a child to reach and take water by herself
We do not want to deal with the mess created when the children do things for themselves
It is difficult to see a child struggle- e.g.: with a project, or tying her laces.
While these reasons feel valid for us, it is also important to ask ourselves, “If we let go and allowed children to do many more things by themselves is there a greater benefit for them?
The answer to this from all experts is, “Yes!!” With every task the child does by herself, she learns to think, analyse, and take decisions. She starts believing in her abilities. She will make mistakes and from them she will learn how to take even better decisions the next time. Have you seen the look of pride and joy on the face of a child who succeeds in buttoning his clothes for the first time or riding his cycle? These small accomplishments of doing things independently go a long way in building a child's sense of self-worth, much more than marks or medals.
Having put forward the value of helping children towards independence each day, it is also important to note that independence is not something that has to be forced on a child. Each child is different and will seek independence at different stages in their life in different ways. There are areas of life in which we all depend on others and this is true of a child too. Shaming a child by saying, “You are such a baby, you cannot even do this” is not helpful at all.
Our role as parents is to observe, create opportunities and help each child grow towards independence in ways that they want to. “Give the ones you love wings to fly and roots to come back and reasons to stay.”Dalai Lama.
Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.