Love them, leave them alone: encouraging independence in children

Love them, leave them alone: encouraging independence in children
Photo by Alaric Sim / Unsplash
"Miss Independent, Miss Self Sufficient" Miss Independent by Kelly Clarkson

Yesterday I learned that parents spend double the amount of time with their children today compared to parents in the 1960s.

This statistic surprised me because it's so common for both parents to work now. But, this isn't calculating time spent at home- it's time spent with their kids.

Until recently, children got a lot more play time alone and independence to play outside. Now it's much more common for children to have an adult supervising everything they do. Kids are driven from activity to activity instead of walking/biking there themselves.

Now this isn't all bad: kids have much more access to interesting extracurriculars and parents are much more intentional with their time, but it is an extreme difference from how children used to grow up.

The problem that educators are beginning to see is that children are struggling with independence. My colleagues and I observed that it's more common for children to be incapable of solving small problems. This might include managing materials, solving simple problems with friends, or advocating or their needs. This causes a huge struggle in school, because independence is essential for success.

Now colleges are attributing the mental health crisis on college campuses to overparenting. After 18 years of strict scheduled time supervised by an adult, students struggle to be dropped off at college. Colleges are struggling to keep up with the demand for mental health professionals.

I'm not a parenting blogger, my mission is to share the important aspects of education with parents.

Independence is a huge piece of success in school from preschool through college. When I was in the classroom, it was extremely clear to me which of my students got time alone to struggle, to problem solve, and develop their personalities...and which students were supervised every minute of every day. Thriving in school requires a certain amount of independence, plus you deserve to get time to yourself too!

Here's a few ideas to build in more independence. These ideas will vary based on your child's age, abilities, and where you live:

πŸ– #1 most important and easiest! Alone time: let your kiddo have some space without screens. Let them play, get bored, and find a new way to play.

πŸ– Unstructured playtime: minimal/no adult supervision, a mixed age group of kids, just their imaginations. During this time if issues arise, children are able to solve the problems. Let them argue and problem solve as needed.

πŸ– Independent outdoor time: play in the backyard, neighborhood, or local park

πŸ– They can tend to their needs: picking out and putting on clothing, preparing snacks/meals, packing their backpack

πŸ– Chores: start with simple tasks that will lead to independence. Imagine how clean you want their kitchen to be when you visit their first apartment πŸ˜„

πŸ– Running errands: a younger child may go to another aisle in the grocery store to grab something, when they are older they could go to the corner store to buy milk

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