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How To Foster Independence In Your Child (While Keeping Them Safe) By Laurie Larson

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One morning, the intrepid kindergartner that I was at only 5 years old, I walked up to my parents and said, “I’m walking to school today. You’re not coming with me. I’m not taking the bus.”

It was a gut-check moment for Mom and Dad. But they did what good parents do: They weighed the pros and cons asked themselves, “Do we let her go? Or do we rein her in?”

My parents are both educators. Oh, you better believe they let me walk alone to school that day. I walked the entire quarter mile like a boss. I conquered my hometown’s childhood Mt. Everest before I lost my first tooth. Come to find out, my mom followed me in the car, at a safe distance, to make sure I didn’t get lost or abducted.

See, you can nurture independence in your children without jeopardizing their safety or hurting their pride. In this case, my parents gave me enough leash to accomplish my goal and quietly made sure I did it safely.

We must worry for our children’s safety; the world demands that of us. But it’s also important that we allow our children to develop confidence, personality, and independence. In this day and age, maybe you don’t feel completely safe enough to let your child walk “by themselves,” but there are several situations in which you can allow your child to foster their independence in safe ways. Here are a few you can consider:

Creating sleeping habits

Establishing a bedtime is a major point of contention between parents and their children. The reason children may resist bedtime so strongly could be due to the parent’s insistence on setting strict boundaries. Sometimes, when you allow a little breathing room, your child is able to make healthy decisions on their own.

When it comes to bedtime, it’s important that you set a good example and create some boundaries. The best thing you can do for your kid is educate. Let them know about the importance of our sleep and how it relates to our health. Show them what happens to teeth when they go unbrushed for a long time. Encourage healthy nighttime activities by reading to your child rather than putting on TV.

Sometimes a good trick is to make the bedroom a space where your child can express their personality and get comfortable in. Let your child lead the charge in a big kid bedroom upgrade by picking their theme and a few fun pieces. Help them pick out their new big kid bed by getting educated on the options and then let them pick out their favorite.

Making friends and playdates

Worried about your child unwittingly palling around with a future drug kingpin or ruthless captain of industry? Wait, they might be the same thing.

Anyway, while we may worry about our children’s friends, resist the urge to manage your kid’s instincts based on the new friend’s personality. Model how to be a good friend. Let them figure out how to get along with people. Be open to having conversations with them and, most importantly, listen.

Although it’s good to let your child create and control their own friendships, it’s still important that you ensure you are establishing safe playdates. There are so many unknowns to manage: Where do they live? Will adults be watching kids and looking out for other dangers ((unattended pools, guns in the home, strangers)? While you shouldn’t control who your children are friends with, you should be sure to monitor their time together so you know they are safe.

Choosing clothing

I have a friend who decided long ago that her two children would be free to choose what to wear as soon as they were able. Different socks with polka-dot skirt? Good to go. Suit jacket and shorts? Solid. Girls in soccer cleats and a dress? We dig your style, kid.

I appreciate the philosophy’s joie de vivre. It’s also slightly brilliant. When it comes to clothes, kids are begging to act on their own. And, just so long as all the relevant body parts are covered and protected from the elements, should we worry so much about how they look?

In exchange for the chill attitude, parents will avoid a morning battle and gift their child the awareness that they are fully capable of making choices for themselves. A child with agency is well on their way to becoming a productive adult.

Do the right thing, parents!

Allowing your child to make their own decisions can be scary, but they will thank you later. Giving your child some (safe) breathing room every now and then can help your child learn independence, responsibility, and let them figure out who they are.


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