Should raising independent kids be part of your parenting objective? Many would say it depends on how you describe an independent child. Independence in children means giving your children the life tools they need to be able to make decisions that are right for them. It means giving your child the tools that give him confidence in his ability to do things for himself.
Anne Franck once said that “Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” What this means is that providing the right environment can help your child develop important skills that will help him transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood.
We all want to prepare our kids to live happy and successful lives. Science says that there are different ways to get there. The good news is that you probably already practice some of the evidence-based approaches at home and those that you don’t are easy to implement.
Here are 10 evidence-based tips to raising a happy and self-reliant kid
1) Focus on your child’s effort
Why is it that some kids have an exceedingly difficult time dealing with even the most insignificant mistakes and failure and others are able to more easily overcome setbacks?
According to Carole Dweck, growth-mindset parenting can help teach your child that she has the power to change most of the situations in her life. It can help teach her that achievement requires work, effort and specific strategies, and that it is rarely a question of talent or luck.
The neuroscience research on growth mindset suggests that how your child views the events that happen to her determine whether or not she can easily overcome setbacks. A child with a growth mindset believes that she has what it takes to improve, while one with a fixed mindset sees things as fixed and unchangeable.
We now know that the feedback we give our children largely affects their behavior. In other words, our words can either work toward or against the development of a growth mindset.
Dweck, for instance, has shown that focusing on your child (“how clever you are”) instead of his/her behavior (“see how your efforts have paid off”) can be counterproductive. This makes perfect sense if you think about it: if you tell your child she is “clever” because of good performance, does that means she is “not clever” or “less clever” when she has slightly poorer performance?
How focusing on your child’s efforts can increase her independence
Using appropriate words to respond to your child’s performance can help sharpen her growth mindset skills. It can teach her to see setbacks as temporary problems that can be overcome through effort.
Here are three responses you can start using today to help your child learn that she has the power to change most of the situations that happen in her life:
- “What will you try next time?”
- “What else can you try”?
- “It’s great how you tried different strategies until you found the one that works for you”
Focusing on her effort helps her understand that performance requires effort and strategic thinking. It can help increase your child’s self-reliance and her ability to do things on her own.
2) Foster gratitude to reinforce your child’s autonomy
Practicing gratitude helps improve you and your child’s psychological and physical well-being. It improves concentration, strengthens immune systems, reduces depression, stress and anxiety, and leads to a more optimistic outlook to life.
Science suggests that practicing gratitude can make your kid more helpful, generous, outgoing, pleasant to be around, trustworthy, and more likely to cooperate. Emmons and Stern, two well-known gratitude researchers, suggest that gratitude helps solidify, affirm and strengthen relationships.
One of the best-known experiments about gratitude, the “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens” study, found that when participants were asked to focus on gratitude, they were more “attentive, determined, energetic, enthusiastic, excited, interested, joyful, and strong.” In other words, the studies found that gratitude can be an acquired skill if a conscious effort is made.
We now know that practicing gratitude increases positive emotions. In other words, teaching your child to adopt a habit of gratitude decreases pessimism and increases happiness and satisfaction with life. There are simple ways to get gratitude into your child’s routine, for instance by picking a specific moment each day – for example during meals – and asking each family member to name one thing for which they are grateful. Here are five easy gratitude routines you can get started on today.
3) Taming your kids’ toys teaches him to be self-reliant
“Toys, toys, everywhere!” seems to be something many parents are familiar with. We now know that toys could actually be stifling your child’s creativity. A study undertaken by German researchers found that kids primarily use toys to escape other situations. Their study focused on the impact taking away these toys would have on the development of social and life skills such as problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills and creativity.
The research was also driven by the need to pull back from the consumer-oriented society which constantly drives kids to want more and more, and to consistently seek the latest thrill.
To carry out the study, the researchers created a toy-free day-care center and divided the children there into groups. In a few groups, all toys were removed for a period of three months. The researchers found that the children without toys were more creative, balanced and more confident in their abilities. They were also more likely to speak their minds and to use their skills and those of others to achieve their objectives compared to the groups which were allowed to play with toys.
Here are a few practical tips to help tame your kid’s toys.
4) Doing chores helps build self-reliance in kids
Many parents still believe that it is wrong to ask children to participate in household tasks. The science says they are wrong. Doing things your kids can do for themselves teaches them to be dependent and prevents them from developing the confidence that comes with achievement. Encouraging your children to participate in age-appropriate household chores can have a positive impact on later outcomes.
According to Rossman, a professor at the University of Mississippi, including kids in chores is worth the effort: starting chores early is among the greatest predictors of success as an adult. Both Julie Lythcott-Haims (the author of the book “How to Raise an Adult” and Richard Bromfielf (Harvard Medical School psychologist) agree. In their view, letting your kids skip household chores prevents them from developing important skills they will need later in life. Chores have also been associated with social, emotional and academic benefits, and they teach kids important skills such as responsibility, self-reliance and accountability.
That said, getting your child to help out around the house can be hard work! Start small – Make a list of at least 10 things your child can do by herself. To complete your list, ask her to propose ideas of the chores she would like to do. Here are over 70 age-appropriate chore-cards to help motivate your kids to participate in or continue doing household chores.
5) Letting your kids get bored makes them more self-reliant and responsible
Parental intervention is not always beneficial when kids claim to be bored. According to one study reported on BBC, “children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.”
In other words, you do not have to feel guilty about not entertaining your child. Boredom can provide an opportunity for him to practice different skills such as decision-making and creativity.
That said, your child needs a unstructured but stimulating environment to arouse his creativity because a lack of structure can lead to frustration. That is why it important to provide a “constructive boredom framework” that allows him to practice decision making and to manage his time alone.
The “Nurturing Constructive Boredom: Over 101 fun activities to boost your child’s concentration and autonomy” is specially designed to:
- Help your child practice specific tasks to develop his/her focus and concentration
- Encourage your child to manage boredom by him/herself
- Increase your child’s capacity to stay focused on specific items and ignore others
- Increase your child’s ability to “think then act”
- Promote independent thought
6) Giving your child a sense of control makes her feel independent
Evidence suggests that encouraging your child to participate in decision-making fosters independence and creative thinking skills. Her ability to make sound decisions increases between the ages of eight/nine and 13, and she gains decision autonomy (i.e., the ability to make decisions without parental involvement) between the ages of 12 and 17.
Letting your child play an active role in the decision-making process teaches her to sharpen her critical thinking skills. Here are easy statements/questions to encourage her to practice decision making:
- How will you achieve this? How can we achieve this?
- We’ll go with whatever you decide
- What would you do? What do you want to do?
- Which one do you want?
- What do you think?
- What do you think we can change? What would you change?
According to several researchers, the more your child feels responsible for the decisions taken, the more likely she is to respect those decisions. They suggest that using parent-controlled processes to transfer autonomy as she grows older can make it easier to manage her behavior.
Concretely, this means setting limits or providing a broad structure then letting your child act within those limits/structure. Let’s take the example of homework – a parent-controlled process can look like specifying by what time homework should be done – “before 6 p.m”, or “before watching TV” or “before your videogame”, then letting your child decide by herself when to do her homework.
Limited options work particularly well with younger kids because they allow them to feel like they have control over their actions. You could say something like “homework now or immediately after your shower?” “shower now or in five minutes?” An alarm may increase your chances of success “I’m setting the alarm to ring after five minutes – as soon as it does, it’s shower time”.
7) Use words that build your kid’s self-esteem
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me” was one of the greatest lies ever told to kids. Words hurt. And the words we repeatedly hear can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
We all tend to act in line with what we believe is expected of us, and the same is true for your kid. Your words not only shape his personality, they also shape the relationship you develop with him, well beyond the childhood years.
What is now commonly referred to as the Pygmalion or Rosenthal effect emerged from Rosenthal and Jacobson’s studies. This phenomenon suggests that when you have positive expectations of your child, these expectations can affect reality and become self-fulfilling prophecies. The opposite phenomenon—the Golem effect—suggests that low expectations lead to poor performance.
Despite the questions that surround these initial studies, we now know that how you describe your child’s behavior will ultimately have an impact on how he behaves. Your words communicate what you think about him —scatterbrain or creative, nosy or inquisitive, shy or mindful.
Positive labels help build up your child, but they do not mean you should excuse bad behavior. You must always call things “as they are.” Your aggressive kid is not a born leader, nor is your sloppy kid an artist. Hiding behind labels to avoid dealing with behavioral issues does your kid no favors.
This is what you need to remember: positive labels will build up your kid and help him learn to see himself as a successful person; negative labels may destroy him.
8) Focusing on your child’s strengths can increase her self-reliance
Mary Reckmeyer, the author of the book “Strengths Based Parenting”, says that dwelling on your child’s weaknesses and your desire to fix what you believe is wrong prevents her from developing her innate talents. She argues that pushing kids to perfection in areas where they are less inclined means striving to live according to others’ standards. Understanding that each of our kids is unique helps reduce the peer pressure to produce “standardized” kids.
An increasing number of studies now suggest that focusing on your child’s strengths will lead to greater success than forcing her to consistently practice activities for which she has neither the skills nor the interest. There is evidence that strength-based parenting can help increase your child’s happiness and satisfaction in ways you never thought possible.
A recently published study suggests that we can help our children improve their resilience and reduce their stress levels by adopting a strengths-based approach. According to the study, this approach helps kids learn to draw on their personal strengths to cope with stressful situations and leads to higher levels of life satisfaction. It also helps kids learn to deal with conflict in socially appropriate ways, limits aggressive behavior, and leads to better academic performance.
Adopting a strength-based approach can help your child learn to see herself as a successful person. Here are a few practical tips you can adopt from today.
9) Make time to hang out
Building healthy relationships right from childhood is one of the most effective ways of strengthening your family’s bonds. It also gives your child a sense of belonging which is fundamental to his happiness and well-being. The good news is that relatively simple activities you share as a family can make the difference between whether your family stays close knit or falls apart.
While we’d all time to spend more time with our kids, science says quality trumps quantity every time. This means you need to focus on how you’re spending that time together rather than on how much time you’re spending together. Even when you have no time, you can still find easy ways to “grab little moments”.
Download my FREE 30-day challenge to help you spend more family time. And here’s the best part: all activities can be done within 10 to 15 minutes and are completely free.
10) Reinforcing your child’s emotional intelligence can improve her sense of autonomy and self-reliance
Did you know that your child’s emotional intelligence determines her social, psychological and academic outcomes?
Gottman’s studies on emotional intelligence have shown that kids taught about emotions are better able to adopt strategies to eliminate disturbing stimuli. For example, emotionally intelligent kids are more likely to know when to walk away from unpleasant situations, or the activities to engage in to calm their angry feelings.
We now know that an emotionally-intelligent child is more likely to:
- Build positive social interactions and live “peacefully” with those around him
- Make and keep friends and cooperate with others
- Display traits such as empathy
- Recognize his own emotions and those of the people around him
- Respond to difficult emotions appropriately
- Express difficult emotions appropriately
- Control his or her impulses
- Deal with frustration appropriately.
How to strengthen your child’s emotional intelligence skills
Your child’s ability to recognize her emotions is directly linked to her self-regulation skills. The most effective way to strengthen her emotion regulation skills is to teach her to identify emotions – her own and those of others. Remember that there are simple age-appropriate strategies you can put into place starting today. Taking advantage of her favorite shows or books to talk about the emotions displayed is a great way to get the conversation about emotions going. For instance, saying something like “I wonder why he looks so sad” can be an easy way to start the conversation on emotions.
If you enjoyed this piece, you’ll love my workbook “This is what it takes to raise a happy and confident adult”. The workbook draws on proven scientific research and theories from the world’s greatest philosophers to propose practical information to help foster traits such as independent thought, self-motivation, grit, confidence and a growth mindset.