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Everyday ways to foster independence in kids

I feel that one of my main parenting jobs is to help my kids leave the nest knowing to look both ways before crossing the street, how to boil water, and that it’s a good thing to pay bills on time.

How to be a grown-up, in other words.

By the time my kids are young adults, my prayer is that they’ll understand the basics behind living in the real world, so that they can establish their own households responsibly and contribute positively to the world around them.

Baby steps. It’s got to be baby steps, because as I write this, only one of my children knows how to get their own pajamas on, and one of them still can’t leave my side for more than a few hours at a time before he needs milk again.

I’ve got a long time before my nest is empty. But baby steps are required for fostering independence in my kids, and it’s the little, daily things that add up to creating a young adult who isn’t scared of the world around her.

Here are some basic things we do to help foster independence in our little kids.

Tons of free play

Sure, we have scheduled play dates, and we’ve been known to enjoy the occasional library story time or ballet class at the Y. But far and away, most of our kids’ play time is unstructured, left to them to decide how and what to play.

Photo by Cameron Russell

Not only is it stressful to be a helicopter parent, it’s not healthy for kids. They need lots of time to be free-range, to make decisions and create their own imaginary worlds. Skinned knees build healthy confidence.

Our kids know their physical boundaries outside, and they’ve earned our trust. When it’s free time, they’re allowed to go in the backyard to do whatever, or also grab a book off the shelf and curl up on the stair landing, build a city out of blocks, or dig around the craft cabinet and make cards for their friends.

Daily independence in play leads to independence in other areas of life.

Let them get frustrated

A couple times per week, we let our kids play on our touch screen desktop computer. It comes with tons of age-appropriate games, along with the ability to create individual accounts so that we can pre-set where they can go on the Internet when they’re logged in. Add because it’s touch screen, and it’s really a useful tool for helping a young child learn how to use a computer and play independently—no need to mess with a mouse.

Our button-loving three-year-old loves this computer, so we help him sign in, select a game, and go to town. But that doesn’t mean Reed understands perfectly what to do. He’ll still get stuck, or not understand a game, or want to change coloring pages.

He does pretty well for his age, but sometimes he’s unsure what to do next. We let him figure it out on his own. We don’t let him needlessly suffer, and when he’s lost all self-control, we either show him how to do whatever it is he wants to do, or we move him on to something else.

But giving him that time to be frustrated is giving him the chance to do it himself. You know how toddlers are always saying, “Me do it.” Well, we want him to. So we provide a safe environment to “me do it.”

Let them work out conflict

Tate and Reed play well together, but that doesn’t mean it’s always roses. There are still daily arguments over him Godzilla-ing her tea party, or who gets which tree swing. I can’t tell you how many times I hear, “REED!!!” from the six-year-old, or crying in a collapsed heap on the floor from the toddler.

Unless it’s a major deal, we let them deal with it. Sure, we intervene when we can tell it’s necessary, but we want them to learn how to democratically handle disagreements. Respectful voices are required, and Tate knows to clap her hands in frustration if Reed’s being a pill, which gives us the signal to come in and help. But for the most part, they’re on their own to decide what to play, who gets which toy, and who gets to be in charge.

Letting them handle their own conflicts has helped them play really well together. Hopefully this is laying a foundation for later dealing with a frustrating coworker, putting up with a less-than-perfect situation in real life, and handling disagreements with their spouses.

Speak to them naturally and take them seriously

Photo by Krystian Olszanski

We don’t baby talk in our family, so it always throws Tate off when an adult speaks to her in a childish way. From the get-go, we like to converse in a normal voice, talking to them in a way that speaks trust and confidence.

That doesn’t mean we sit around discussing the national debt or why Kafka’s works are epitomes of German existentialism. It means we ask them questions about the best part of their days, and probe deeper into their thoughts when they share surface-level answers. It means when they tell us something that matters, we don’t laugh it off, because it’s important to them.

When Tate tells me she had a bad day, I ask her why she thinks her day was bad. And then I take her answer seriously. If she tells me it’s because Nick wanted to play soccer on the playground instead of with her, I listen. And then I never, ever say something like, “Well, it’s really no big deal — it’s just one kid” or, “Just wait until you have much bigger problems.”

I try to put myself in her situation. I ask, “So why was that frustrating to you?” And then I listen to her answer.

If she pouts and asks why I won’t let her have cocoa mud muffins for breakfast (like she did just a few hours ago), I help her think through my logic. “Okay, let’s talk about why that sort of thing is a special treat. It’s got lots of sugar, right? Well, wouldn’t that be weird if I let you have something that’s basically dessert for breakfast? Sometimes it’s okay, but not all the time, right?” And then I let her share her thoughts. I don’t lecture with this sort of everyday situation.

“But I really like them,” she’ll say. “I know — that’s why you have them after having a day with mostly healthy food. They are good, aren’t they?” She made a valid point — I like them, too.

When we speak to our children like they have valid thoughts and ideas, we’re telling them we trust their instincts and ability to come to conclusions. It fosters independent thinking.

I know when I was a kid, I loved being around adults that treated me respectfully. I want my children to feel the same around me. What a blessing to (hopefully) see them move in to adulthood with tools to make wise decisions, and to think critically without being told how to think.

Provide safe situations for little kids to flex their independent muscles now, and when they’re older, they’ll know how to use those muscles when it really counts.

Awhile ago, many of you shared your thoughts on how “free-range” you let your kids go — there are great comments in this post.

For more to chew on, some of my favorite books about fostering independence are Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv (an absolute must-read), and Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy.

What everyday things do you do in your family to foster independence?

This post was first published on January 14, 2011.

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  1. Jennifer

    Thank you! Generally I like to think this is how my husband and I approach communication with our two kids, but it’s so easy to get off track and start micro-managing playtime, arguments and choices. Thanks for reminding me of my original intention.

  2. Julie @ The Useful Box

    Love your ideas here Tsh.

    Our kids are still very little (2, 1 and newborn), so I find I need to give them a fair bit of structure within the day, and just give them simple choices and short designated free play times. Having said that, even in structured play, I usually just decide which boxes of toys will come out and then leave them to it.

    One of the advantages of having 3 kids very close in age is that the older ones HAVE to be somewhat independent.

    We encourage chores for our kids from a very young age. Our eldest is 2.5 years. She helps me get things for the baby, puts things in the bin, helps make her bed, helps me to dress and undress her, sets the table and puts her dirty cups/ dishes in the sink. Our 18 month old also puts things in the bin, puts used drink bottles in the sink, helps set the table, and gets things when asked. He obviously needs a lot more direction than his sister. At the ages of our kids, it would usually be much quicker/ easier for me to do many of these tasks myself, but we want to encourage their independence as much as possible.

    Thanks for a helpful post.

  3. Rachel

    I think this is a really healthy way to approach child-rearing, and I know my own mother spoke to me with respect when I was a kid. I don’t have kids yet, but I really want to be able to create that kind of relationship when I do have them. I can imagine how difficult it must be, though, because most parents want to protect their children. They want things to be easy for them, and hate to see them struggle. It’s also easy to pull the “I’m the parent” card without explanation or respecting their emotions. The older I get the more I realize that the easiest things are rarely the best things. Thanks for this article!

  4. Nadene

    Freedom to chose for young children can start with a choice between 2 selections, “Would you like to wear this top or this one?” My child must wear a top, but she gets to choose which one. Children who chose should also learn the consequences of their choices. I find children who learn this way gain confidence.
    My children know that I will never tease them or allow others to mock their comments, so they can discuss things freely. We have wonderful honest and meaningful chats!

    • Tsh

      Yes! I agree completely. Love and Logic (the book recommendation at the end) goes into this a lot — finite choices. Let them choose 95% of the time when the outcome doesn’t matter (red shirt or blue shirt). Then you have more leverage when it does matter (bedtime at 8:00).

  5. Alison @ Femita

    I believe that indeed it’s important to give your kids the tools to find solutions rather than giving solutions away. It will teach them a lot about problem solving and independence. Let them experiment, play, fight, be themselves. It’s the best thing you can do.

  6. Tara

    I really like this one. I often think that I don’t give my 2 and 4 year olds enough space and in return, they are very dependent on me. Like you said, it is stressful on the parent.

  7. Andrea

    I agree with everything you’ve said, Tsh. I’m dismayed when I see children as young as a year old being over scheduled with no time left for discovery time. As a new mom, I fell into this trap because I thought I needed to keep my daughter engaged and stimulated – as well as myself outside in the world with other moms. It was my mom who told me to cut back on activities and just let her roam around and play among her books and toys – and see what unfolded. My mom – of course! – was right and we’re the better for scheduling free time to create independence.

  8. Kay @ The Church Cook

    Thank you Tsh, what great recommendations! It is GOOD to know that I am on the right track with my children! 🙂

  9. Kara @Simple Kids

    I was just saying in the comments on SK this week that one of my hardest habits to break as a parent is answering every “I’m bored” with a list of suggestions. Good things come from boredom and figuring out on your own what to do, what you’re interested in. Getting frustrated and figuring out solutions and learning to problem solve is a valuable skill.

    Speak to them naturally and take them seriously.


    What a different childhood so many kids would have if the adults in their lives did this.

    Thank you for the gentle reminders, my friend 🙂

  10. Farrukh

    My daughter is 2 years old and she likes to do most of her tasks on her own. It is really difficult for parents to see their child frustrated and they want to correct the problem as soon as possible. I confront this problem on daily basis but now I have learned not to panic and be patient so that my toddler have some time to sort out the problem on her own in order to be more independent in future.

  11. Kathy @ House of Hills

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this post and agree with you 100%!

    The one I really think is important is frustration level. Children need to learn that it is not always easy and that you are not always going to fix it right away. Without reaching frustration level, they have no reason to problem solve and will become reliant on others rather than their own ability. Because my child is a quick learner, I’ve had to stretch to find ways to frustrate her (that sounds horrible doesn’t it). I agree that computer games are great for that because they have so many levels.

    Thanks for this post!

  12. Missy June

    I incorporate many of the ideas you shared…with three little ones (and being a single mom) it’s crucial to foster healthy independence!

    One area where we have had struggles is at the table. For various reasons, I’ve decided not to make mealtimes a battle but still serve healthy, balanced food. When my daughter does not want to eat, I never force it instead I try to empower her.

    “That’s up to you, Faith, but you won’t get your crescent rolls unless you eat your chicken bites.” (or something of the like). Crescent rolls are great motivation!

  13. Meagan @ The Happiest Mom

    I love this post! Your philosophy matches mine very closely…except for the baby talk thing. I DO talk baby talk when they are babies! But as they get older it’s important for me to talk to them in a real way, not a fakey preschool-teacher voice (you know what I’m talking about, right?) or talking down to them like they can’t handle the truth.

    I feel like my number-one job as a parent is to raise children who can take adulthood in stride. I don’t always try to make them happy–that’s not my job–but I do want to give them the tools to make themselves happy.

    • Tsh

      Yes, I’m thinking along the lines of the fakey-preschool-teacher voice. I’ve been known to do the occasional, “Who’s the cutest baby?” to Finn every now and then. 😉

  14. Amanda Morgan

    Fantastic post, Tsh! I agree with everything you listed here. I try not to do for my boys what I know they can do for themselves. That means we do things like keep their cups in a drawer instead of a cupboard so that when they ask for a drink I say, “Sure you can have a drink. You know how to do that right?” It’s funny to see them and their friends suddenly get this look of pride that says, “Oh yeah, I CAN do that!” It’s often easier, faster, and cleaner to do things for them, but letting them do things independently builds their confidence, independence, and responsibility. Thanks for the great post!

    • Tsh

      Oh yes, thanks for the reminder! We do the same thing, too — all the kids’ plates and cups are in a drawer at their level, and we keep a water dispenser in the fridge at their level. The 3-year-old gets his own water. It’s often messy, but he’s getting better and better.

      It is fun to see their pride swell when they can do things themselves, isn’t it?

    • Ac

      We do the same thing! We have a lower (large) drawer where we keep their plates, cups and silverware. Even our 22 month old gets in on the action. He’ll get his own cup, lid and straw and pull out a plate and fork. Our 4 yr old is now older enough to reach the water dispenser in the fridge door so she gets her own water. She also takes her plate, silverware and cup to the counter next to the sink when she is finished eating an we’ve asked her to start bringin our sons as well. They are both SO proud of themselves for helping! Developing stewardship is such a huge lesson for all of us and I think small but helpful tasks like this are a great step in the right direction.

      • Ac

        ack! Sorry for all of the typos. My iPad keyboard isn’t charged and I’m terrible with the onscreen one. 🙁

  15. Belinda Norrington

    Do you let your kids watch tv? My kids our older, have loads of different interests but do gravitate to screens especially if the weather is bad.

    • Tsh

      They have to ask us. We do occasionally, and it feels like it’s been more since the weather has been icky, but it’s almost 100% on Netflix. That’s one area where I’m glad my 3-year-old needs help, and my oldest knows she has to ask if she can watch something in particular. It’s a fine line.

      Most of our day is a “no screen” day. We have windows when it’s allowed, not when it’s not allowed. Does that make sense? Hope so…

  16. Belinda Norrington

    Oops, please excuse the typo, are not our!

  17. Tony

    Good article. I remember when my kids were toddlers (fun days). I also liked what you said about their frustrations playing together preparing them for real life situations with co-workers, bosses, and spouses in the future. My kids are now teen-agers and we have talk about this very thing – how the way they treat each other says a little something about how they will deal with life, and others, like bosses, co-workers, and even spouses. Thank you for the article. May God bless you.

  18. raygun

    I agree with everything in this post, but I have a question. When does encouraging independence turn into “disengaged” parenting? I am not intending this question to be accusatory, but genuinely curious. My husband and I have adopted a “hands-off” approach to our son’s playtime – he’s 2 years old. He is free to play with his toys, draw a picture, play outside, etc. (basically the same things you described in your post) However, sometimes I worry about not playing with him enough (especially now that his little sister has come along), or that I am being somehow neglectful. Any thoughts that the mothers have on this forum would be appreciated.

    • Sarah Park

      I think what you’re doing is great! If he’s happily being busy on his own, then he’s developing the internal resources to enjoy and figure out life without you having to hold his hand through every step. I think it’s important that kids know they are loved and cared for, but it’s a different message altogether if you have to constantly be a part of their play. If you’re feeding him, clothing him, giving him hugs and kisses, and helping him when he’s in need, you’re not being neglectful!

      As for siblings… I know what you mean. When our first was almost three, we had twins… and our daughter went from being the star of the show to getting much less attention from me. I don’t think I should’ve been playing with her all the time (and really, it would’ve be impossible!), but I wish now that I’d carved out even 15 minutes of special time dedicated just to her, to read, snuggle, be goofy, over and above the obligatory bedtime story. Now she’s almost seven, and things have gotten much more balanced again. So even if you feel like you’re messing it up, it is possible to get back on track!

    • Vicky

      I think you bring up a good point only because I think that is exactly what happened to me when I was younger. I was a independent kids by nature so I am sure that played into it, but the more independent I got….the more they turned off….did their own thing, assumed I didn’t need them maybe. By the time I was a teenager I was so use to getting along by myself and being alone that I wasn’t comfortable around being around my parents (as crazy as that sounds) and when I couldn’t do something or didn’t know something I was kind of at a loss for what to do.

      Extreme example maybe, but as with everything I think there is a middle ground to be found and this is no different. An morning “scheduled activity” and an afternoon of free play, scheduled activities (at home like family night or outside the home) during the weekdays and free play on the weekends…. Fostering independence as the same time as fostering communication and your close relationship. What jobs us mothers (and fathers) have! ☺

      • Nickolina Jacoby

        It IS hard to maintain a balance in connecting with your kids. So much plays into it, including your own energy levels. But small connections, listening to them, smiling at them ( I spent a while being convicted that I did not actually smile at my own children ), little ‘threads’ of affection like spider threads do add up.

        Now that my children have grown, I look back and see that despite our mistakes we still have affection. All attributed to God’s mercy and grace. I think that trusting God with your kids’ hearts is freeing. He can take care of that, I cannot control their attitudes. So much of the stress of parenting is related to the fallacy that we can control our children’s hearts! We control their bodies a very, very short period.

        All that to say, I agree that it is a mistake to ‘turn off’ your care for the child while you are encouraging them to fly.

    • Elissa

      My thought would be that you play with him when he asks. When he brings you a book, or game, or toy and says “Mommy, play with me.” That would be the time when you play. Then, he knows that you’re available to him when he wants. Or, you can ask him about his play. When he comes up for a break, say “you were really busy over there. tell me about what you were doing.” Or, when he’s playing, just be near by. Sit on the floor, but do your own thing. If he wants to play, he’ll let you know. Just be available.

    • Grace

      That’s a good question.
      I don’t have any memories of my mom playing with me at all (and she was a stay-at home mom, as I am). I cooked and baked with her at an early age. But she never sat down to one tea party, never played dolls with me. I was by myself a lot.

  19. megan @ mama is a four letter word

    among your other good suggestions, i think not speaking in baby talk to any child is so important, and is the first step in fostering a sense of self-worth and independence! i’ve been working on a blog post about it… so was so happy to see that you’re writing about the same!

  20. megan @ mama is a four letter word

    among the other great ideas, i think not using baby talk is so important to foster a sense of self-worth and independence! i’ve been working on a post about why i speak in full sentences with my baby – so i was happy to see this mention of the same!

  21. Laura

    Loved this topic:). I have 3 kids – 10, 8 1/2 & 3 1/2. When the older two were younger, we did a lot together, but they always did have free time & I purposely did not schedule lots of activities that we HAD to do (I still do that!). As they have gotten a bit older, I of course give them free time to choose what they want to do, but….I find it’s harder to find a balance between what they want to do & what I think is a good choice!!!

  22. Monica Crumley

    Such a great post and such a great reminder! It’s easy to get caught up in overscheduling kids when they get older and free time is a luxury. I love when the younger ones create forts out of blankets and bring all their dolls or stuffed animals in to play or spend time creating cool RR track layouts or Lego creations…


    Tsh, what a great, thoughtful, yet succinct article. It’s crazy to think that these little things now can mean more independent-thinking as as an adult, but it makes sense. Great post.

  24. MomOf2

    Tsh… great post! I’ve got a 9 and 7 year old and to make sure that they do get some unscheduled free play now that they are school-age, I make sure they are only enrolled in one extra-curricular activity each. Since one does karate, the other gymnastics, they get some exercise and some work and improving their social skills. The rest of the week is so that they can explore their imaginations. And, I love that you mention to talk to them as “equals” – my friends are often amazed at the vocabulary and understand that my two kids have as a result! Not only do we talk about all kinds of things, but they have learned how to express themselves and be understood.

    Thanks again!

  25. Jenna

    My mom would always suggest we figure out problems on our own. But then always offer to help out when needed. This gave my brother and I a sense of independence as well as the comfort of a safety net in case something went wrong.

  26. Anna

    Great article, Tsh!

    I struggle to find the balance between playing with my 11-month-old and letting him play on his own. I am very committed to spending time on the floor with him, but then I’ll notice that whenever I stand up to do something else, he starts freaking out.

    How have you balanced that need to play with your kids, and let them play by themselves?

    I know my mom rarely played with my three sisters and me when we were little – she said she would get us started on activities sometimes, but usually we played with each other, and we loved it. I never felt robbed of my mother’s attention.

    Just thinking out loud…

    • Katelyn

      I just wanted to comment that 11 months is still REALLY little to be independently playing away from you and that an 11 month old’s attention span is very short. It’s not unusual for an 11 month old to want to be really connected to a parent physically. Independent activities don’t have to be separate physically from you. It can include things like helping to unload the dryer into a basket or pushing the laundry basket down the hallway with you following behind. Or letting them feed themselves instead of micromanaging each bite with a spoon. At 11 months old I’d say don’t interrupt him if he’s playing on his own but don’t expect lots of independent play.

  27. Suzita @

    I like your that you have your six year-old clap when your toddler is bugging her. I never thought of that. I’m going to suggest that to others in this phase. And I was reminded yet again of the importance of free play (even for big kids like mine 7, 10 and 12) last night when I saw the film Race to Nowhere. Worth seeing.

  28. Wolf Pascoe

    Who could argue with anything in this wonderful post? Volumes can (and have) been written about each point because putting these things into practice is the challenge. Specifically regarding conflict, very young children can also learn to resolve problems on their own, but it often takes an adult willing to facilitate by making sure that each child is heard by the other. There’s a world of difference between an adult who says, “The two of you just take turns,” and one who says, “Hmm. You both want the same thing. Such a big problem. How are you two going to work it out?”

  29. Nisha @Healthy Mom's Kitchen

    After numerous nights of being woken up by my 4 year old because she had nightmares, I empowered her to “change the channel” in her mind – to Strawberry Shortcake or Ponies or Disneyland! It took a couple nights to remind her that she had the power to change those thoughts and now she wakes up in the morning, exclaiming, “Mom, I changed the channel!” We’ll likely continue to use this analogy as life goes on and negativity and self esteem roller coasters happen in the growing years.

  30. Meremade

    Thanks so much for these helpful tips! My 5 year old goes to a “Reggio” pre-school and I’ve learned so much about how to better foster independence through the school – a lot of what you mentioned here. I think as a first time parent, my instinct was to “control” my child. I’ve stepped way back now and he has flourished because of it. I used to be the type of parent who forced my child to wear a sweatshirt out the door if I thought it was cool out – now I let his body tell him when he’s cold, needs a snack, etc. He picks out his own clothes in the morning and gets himself dressed and while he often looks mismatched, I’m thrilled that he has this skill. I also completely agree with what you say about letting siblings work out their conflicts. Again, my instinct used to be to run in nd “solve” the problem. Now, if they need it, i’ll help each child articulate their needs or frustrations, most of the time they come up with their own solutions or strategies. It’s great! It empowers them, fosters independence and keeps me from “policing.”

  31. Alicia

    All wonderful advice!

  32. priest's wife

    this is one time I prefer microwaves- I have more confidence in my kids using that than the gas stove

  33. amy@flexible dreams

    I really like these ideas! We try to do them all but I often fail in the “letting them work it out” area. One thing we’ve been doing since our kids (now 4 and 6) were little is letting/requiring them do the things they are able to do. They order their own food in restaurants, give the receptionist their card at the doctor’s, put on their own shoes, put their plates in the dishwasher… things like that. We had a five year old friend over the other day and he left the car door open when we all went in the house. When I remarked on it he said, “My mom does that stuff for me.” And I was happy with our life.

  34. Mommy Theorist

    I was set free to roam my suburban neighborhood from dawn til dusk. I did eat berries and flowers; I did climb on construction equipment and buses in the bus yard; I did play with matches. I never broke a bone, and somehow escaped unscathed and with an extremely independent spirit. I’ve undertaken much solo travel, and love to feel empowered and empower other women. I attribute this to parents who bravely set me free.

  35. Au Coeur

    I love what you have to say about talking with kids and valuing their opinions, thoughts and feelings! That is exactly the kind of parent I want to be with my daughter, rather than the kind who demeans and belittles the child because her feelings/problems are small in the scope of the world (which is the experience I had growing up). We may understand the smallness of such issues, but kids don’t and it’s important to remember that. We wouldn’t want to be told something that is important to us doesn’t matter. Thanks for putting my thoughts into words so well.

  36. Sarah C

    I’m new to this whole mom gig, but fortunately I have realized that being an intentional parent involves setting a goal and working backwards. I want my son to be independent. So my parenting decisions need to move him towards this goal.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your post and I feel that allowing children to work through frustration and solve conflicts become the most important skills as their school years progress. Giving kids the vocabulary to articulate their feelings is also very powerful.

    I am finding that it’s already a fine balance, knowing when to step in and when to stand back. But I think with a goal in mind the decision will be more clear??

  37. tracey

    I am both a mother to 3 and a pediatric occupational therapist. Knowing what I know about child development is the very reason I got looks of horror on the playground for letting my toddler climb the ladder to the “big kid slide.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a referral for a child because of a motor delay, and it turns out the child never had the exposure to something to be able to develop that skill (i.e. not knowing how to hold a crayon or marker because he is never allowed to color). I just wrote an article on this very subject for a moms and toddlers group: letting a child attempt a skill creates brain connections that foster independence. It’s not just a good idea, it’s essential for kids to function in the world today! Kudos for your efforts – not always the easiest path, but certainly the most rewarding.

  38. chekai

    iam not a mother yet, but as i go reading the blog i realize that my mom did the same way. I am so thankful that i was raised independently with guided freedom. it helps me battle the everyday life….thanks for the inputs and more power,

  39. Diane

    Tsh, I have a question about the clapping in frustration to get your help. I have twin almost 3 yr olds and my husband and I have been dealing with how to and much to interfere in their arguments. I’m curious how the clapping works. Did you teach her to clap for you when she finds herself in a situation where she’s too frustrated to handle it on her own? How old was she when you started doing this? Does she or did she once just clap every time something made her upset (I’m imagining my daughter doing this). Right now when our twins argue over toys or other toddler abuses we hear lots of yelling or crying. I’ve been trying to teach them to communicate their specific grievance to each other, “No Jackson, don’t knock over my tower” and that’s working pretty well. But I would like some ideas to give them for how to communicate to us when we’re really needed or when they’re just letting our their frustration. Thanks for any insight!

  40. Stephanie - Green SAHM

    I love the reminder to not baby talk to little ones. My youngest is about to turn 2, and it’s sometimes hard to keep the older ones from doing that to her. I just remind them why we don’t baby talk very much even to little kids.

    My two older kids are some of the few in our neighborhood who get to play out front without parents right there. I love how much more confident it has made my very shy 5 year old to be allowed to go ask a friend to play without mom and siblings tagging along. I don’t let him play out there entirely alone yet, but a few minutes to find a friend who can play, usually at their house but I keep hoping for here, is a great experience and confidence builder.

  41. Elissa

    I think baby talk is getting a bad rap here, or is not well defined. I’ve read quite a lot of studies that indicated that “baby talk” or “mothereeses” is important for linguistic development of infants because of the repetitive and slower nature of the dialogue, and that it builds emotional bonds. I certainly hope that we are not discouraging coo-ing or other forms of babbling with babies. Rather, I hope that avoiding “baby talk” in this sense means that we talk to children who have language skills in a way that respects that – not talking in the third person, using correct grammar, etc.

    • Tsh

      Correct. I don’t mean discouraging talk that is reflective of a child’s age—my 18-month-old should babble, say “thank you” when he hands me something, and say “Moe!” when he wants more food. I simply mean that I’ll respond with, “Oh! You want more? Sure!” instead of me imitating him saying “Moe.” I’ll say it correctly.

      Cooing babies are great. Music to my ears. 🙂

  42. DrG from Never A Dull Moment

    Tsh, this article is really excellent. Teaching our kids the skills they need to be independent is one of the top priorities of parenting in my opinion as well. Furthermore, your examples make it clear that you are teaching your children to be resilient, another key skill to a good future. Learning to deal with frustration and conflict and to seek out help when you need it (rather than waiting for someone to descend and fix the situation) will serve your kids so well as teens and adults.

  43. Elena

    Thank you for your words.. Sometimes I feel me with baby as losting and I don’t know what to do, what I have.. but after your words everything begin to go on it’s places in my mind!

  44. Beth

    This is a great post and exactly how I hope to raise my children (2 1/2 & 6 months). My husband is a high school history teacher and I can’t tell you how many of his students were not raised this way. They act like they are entitled to good grades, to get to sit by their friends, to be treated like adults and yet they have no respect for teachers, talk rudely to them and spend the entire class on their cell phones and ipod and you know who usually texts them the most during class, thier parents. I hope the parents of today help change the world a little and bring it back to how I was raised, to work hard, to respect everybody, to be disappointed, to be picked last for the team, to not whine, to eat with my family, to have limits on tv, to lose, that not everything was fair and to play and use my imagination with independece. And with all my parents taught me and the times I thought they were tough or other kids parents were cooler, I always felt loved and knew they had my best intentions at heart.

  45. Nickolina Jacoby

    I remember when a youngest-of-a-large-family stayed with us for a few days, he had never made his own sandwich. At the time, I would put the bread, peanut butter, and jelly on a clean table with a few butter knives and let them make their own. He was SO THRILLED to be allowed to spread peanut butter that he insisted on making everyone’s sandwiches. It is messy, but it cleans up easily.

    I also would not get involved in hearing ‘both sides’ of the story of a squabble. I’d tell them I would flip a coin to determine the winner so they were better off working it out themselves…and since they would be siblings the rest of their lives they may as well figure it out.

    • Ashley Pichea

      I love the coin flip idea! My kids {3 & 5} have started “tattling” in the past few months… if they tattle, they BOTH get in trouble {usually time outs}. Most of the time when tattling occurs, it’s a sign they need a few minutes apart. 🙂

  46. heather

    I really appreciate this article.
    As soon as our first baby was born my husband was emphatic that we not use talk down to him. I’ve really grown to appreciate that…and
    I have also always made a point to take our kids seriously. I think for me it had a lot to do with the fact that I remember being a kid and being frustrated by adults who belittled my voice. I think that one of the THE MOST important things we can do for all children is to REMEMBER. Remember our childhood, remember how we thought as a 5 year old, a 10 year old, and a 15 year old. That was reality for us then, and even though we’re more “mature” as adults today, we can’t expect our kids to be were we are today, and belittle them for not…it’s their own journey, they will grow up in time.
    I would also recommend “Boundaries With Kids” by Dr. Henry Cloud. Wonderful parenting ideas about guiding our children into taking control of what is within their own boundaries (their choices, attitudes, actions, etc.). Empowering.

  47. Andrea @ Frugally Sustainable

    Oh my goodness Tsh! I LOVE everything about this post! It’s as if you reached inside of my thoughts and wrote them down! Thank you for laying this out so beautifully!

  48. Denise In Bloom

    I would like to know the program that Reed is playing in the photo. Looks perfect for one of mine.

  49. Ashley Pichea

    This is so much like my own parenting style… I’m very “hands off” with my kids. People often ask me how I have so much time to do blogging stuff, and my number one answer is letting my kids play on their own. At 5 & 3, they both know their boundaries and the rules – they’re able to play together {or alone} for extended periods of time with minimal supervision. It’s great for them {teaches SO many life skills} and it’s good for me. Also, treating our kids like little adults {in how I speak to them, what I expect from them, etc} is a big feature of our parenting – they are expected to act at least their age and they are given responsibilities to fulfill that match what they’re capable of, and sometimes a little bit more to stretch and grow them.

  50. Michelle G.

    Thank you for this post! We TRY to let her be independent and also “help” as much as possible. Even though she is only 21 months, she loves to sweep, wipe down her table, put laundry in, etc. She doesn’t love picking up toys, yet, though. 🙂
    I always just think about the pioneer women and how they raised their kids (ala, Laura Ingalls Wilder books I suppose). I feel like they just had so much to do there wasn’t time to “helicopter” parent the kids, and they turned out just fine.

  51. Visty

    All very good advice. One thing we are working on is teaching our preteen and teenager to get up the courage to use the phone to make their own plans with friends. When they’re little, the moms do it, and when they’re older, they can text, but I really feel kids need to learn how to deal with the friend’s Dad answering the phone, or whatever it is that might feel intimidating. I don’t want them to use their phones to text their way out of face-to-face interactions and possibly be stunted when they do go out into the world.

    • Katelyn

      Another way to help with that is to take them with you when you do your errands and interact with strangers. Let them: tell the bank teller what you are there for; answer the cashier’s questions at the supermarket; or order for themselves when eating out.

      Play acting with you pretending to be the friend’s parent can help them feel more secure with what they want to say.

  52. brooke

    We are pretty much the same. There is a healthy boundary between living your child’s life for them and stepping out entirely (and I’m certain you are great at it!).

    Each child/family will look different. We do things for some children that we didn’t do for others and vice versa. I admit that I find myself switching things up with my 4th and 5th. There were some things I expected my olders to do that I’m glad of and others not … so I’ve found that I think I even do more for them than I did for my olders. They are only little once .. I like to empower them, but also help them. I like to hand them the coloring book and crayons and also to sit down beside them and show them some ways to color/some tips and teach the names of the colors.
    I’ve also learned to be more organized. If the things they want are never put away, they can’t reliably go get them for themselves. So I work on teaching them how to get it out, play with it and then put it away all on their own so they can have regular expectations. I love that level of independence and self-confidence that they can make those choices.
    We also work hard at saying “yes” to them helping us with cooking or working on something. They become very competent that way.

  53. Merri

    Anybody have any comment when little ones backpeddle on independence? My 4 year old suddenly “can’t know how” to put on her shoes, jammies, pick up toys, etc when just weeks ago I wasn’t allowed to help her with anything because “I can do it!.”

  54. Stephenie

    We have always made a point of using one simple rule with our children since the day they were born…treat them like little people. They are individuals with their own ideas and feelings, not just extensions of us. From a very young age they have been enabled to make simple choices for themselves, like what to wear that day or whatever. When it is something they really have no choice about, like to brush their teeth, we turn it into a choice “Would you like to brush your teeth yourself or would you like me to help you?”
    Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t!

  55. Ann

    My parents could have written this post. It basically described my childhood. And I tend to parent much the same way. I will add one thing though – as you prepare your child to be an independent adult, prepare yourself to parent an independent child. My mom has long said that her main goal was to raise me and my brother to be “independent and self-sufficient adults”, but now she sometimes thinks she was too successful. 🙂 We both have good relationships with our parents (and definitely include them in our lives), but it has been hard for my mom to watch us fly from the nest.

    I am so grateful my parents taught me independence from a very young age. It has been an incredible gift.

  56. Jan

    What games do you have on your touch screen? I need some for ours at home other than Paint.

  57. katepickle

    Loved this…

    There is such a difference in fostering growth and independence in our children and pushing them to be ‘mini adults’ and separate from the family unit too soon. These ideas are all about building confidence and resilience and that is the right path to independence!

  58. Annie

    I read this last night before I went to bed & have been thinking about it all day. We’re pretty free range about play here, but I’ve been much more involved with the whole social/emotional dynamic between our two, as the younger one begins to assert herself, and meltdowns become markers consistent enough to set clocks to around here. This really challenged me to let go and let them learn to work it out a little more – that maybe short-term peace and quiet aren’t worth the long term cost for their learning. Still mulling it all over here. Thanks, Tsh.

  59. Ann

    These are good reminders! Especially the “Let them get frustrated”. I have a hard time not coming to my children rescue when they are having trouble. Thanks!

  60. Claire

    Excellent ideas here.

    Here’s one thing we do with our children as it relates to their homeschooling. (Disclaimer: I’m a homeschool newbie.) My children are ages 8, 6, and 4 and I’ve laminated a chart of their weekly (recurring) assignments. They are responsible for making sure they pace themselves and do enough work each day to get it all finished by weeks’ end. We start the week with a Monday Meeting where everyone becomes aware of our schedule of things outside the home (Bible study, appointments, etc.) and then they can plan their ‘school’ week accordingly. This has all but eliminated whining on their part and nagging on mine. =) God Bless.

  61. Emily

    I want to get my 5yo figuring out breakfast on his own. I know what to do and how, but just can’t get to it. Make it a goal for the New Yr, I guess. 😉

  62. renee @ FIMBY

    I never did see this the first time around. Good stuff. I think I micromanaged my little ones too much and have needed to pull back now that they are older with “work it out yourselves”. It helps having Damien at home now since he’s a bit more “let them figure out themselves” than I am. He stands back and I interfere. Together we find a good balance.

  63. Steph

    We strive to take our little girl seriously but lately my husband and I often find the words “you’re fine” coming out of our mouths when our toddler is complaining. We’ve been trying to catch ourselves and ask her to use her big girl voice to tell us what’s wrong because in her mind she is definitely not fine and this allows her to tell us why in a more acceptable fashion and realize that we care about what matters to her.

  64. Karisa

    My kids are ages 5, 3 and 1. I am enjoying so much!
    But yes, I try to see them as future adults and am constantly asking myself “what can I do today to help them be better people for tomorrow?”

  65. Emily

    I have a toddler and I’m having a hard time figuring out how to ensure he feels secure and attached and still has a sense of adventure and independence. Great piece!

  66. Diana Grant

    Great ideas to let the kids independence on what to do. This is very important since this will be the guide they will follow to be a better person when they grow up. Thanks for sharing these…

  67. Jennifer

    I’m so glad you posted this. My MIL thinks fostering independence is tantamount to child abuse. I shouldnt expect my daughter (6) to even pick up her clothes from the floor. But I have seen what the helicopter parenting results in, so we charge on.

  68. Debbie

    I really like what you have to say. We have three kids–7, 5, and 2. They play independently as well as together a lot–and truly love it. My middle child is particularly creative and its fun to watch her and the other two create all their various “worlds.” We’ve always given them a lot of latitude while still being responsible, of course. I have a friend who wouldn’t let her kids mix Playdoh colors or color outside the lines. I could never understand this. Today, my two oldest are excellent colorers and love art and they taught themselves. Our kids aren’t afraid of playground equipment as we’ve always encouraged them to use it, they bike around the neighborhood with friends, taught themselves the computer (not the youngest–yet), and lots of other things. And they love it!

  69. Alexandria

    “We don’t baby talk in our family”

    Good for you! We are the same way, but it’s hard to think of anyone who is like us. As a plus, our children have always had extraordinary verbal skills, which means we skipped most the terrible 2s, 3s, etc. They could simply TELL us what was wrong, and it’s clear a lot of frustration at that age comes from lack of communication skills. I would run into 4-year-olds who talked like “babies” and think how frustrating that must be! You could have a deep philosophical discussion with my 4yo, in comparison, and he’d understand the big words. Not that you should, but just don’t assume that you can’t. Anyway, people always asked that our “secret” was to such verbal children. & then I’d watch them talk to their small children like they were idiots. I think that is the most of it.

    Anyway, I Feel caught in the middle because my parents raised me to be VERY independent from very young, and they always took a lot of flack for that. Since I think I turned out extraordinarily normal and self-sufficient, I of course want to raise my children the same way. BUT, today’s society is just so different. “You make your kids do CHORES? They can walk outside ALONE?” So I try to make a conscious effort to step back and think about the way I am parenting, versus following the accepted norm. I have been following a blog called “Free Range Kids” which really gets me thinking. It’s hard to let your kids be independent when the POLICE don’t believe a 10-year-old should be walking outside alone. But how ridiculous has society gotten that a 10-year-old can’t be alone for 5 minutes? Anyway, the blog has really made me think – google it.

    Free play is another thing that so few kids get these days. When shopping preschools for my very social child (he didn’t need the “school,” but he certainly needed the play time and social interaction), I was appalled by every school we look at. I finally found some women who had been running a daycare in her house for over 30 years. I always called it “old school preschool.” The kids simply got messy and played. THAT was what my child needed. But I saw very few of my friends giving that experience to their child – everything has to be so organized and plan. For example, all the art projects at all the “preschools” were pre-made kits where you cut and glue, etc. At “old school preschool” it was all about making a mess with paint and doing whatever the heck you wanted with noodles, glitter, etc. – know what I mean? THAT is what KIDS need.

  70. Successful Woman's Resource Center

    What a great post! While I think they are all important, I want to say something about talking and communicating with your children. I now have 4 young adult children who are in their own ways successful (or striving to be!) I have had many people ask me through the years “what was I doing to make them so smart?” As I looked back I realized that one thing we ALWAYS did was talk about everything. We would discuss their schoolwork or the latest books we were reading or something they had seen on TV or awkward situations that they had experienced. Even as toddlers we talked to them, like you said, not baby talk, but talking to them about the things we were passing by in the car or in our yard or in the kitchen. Communication is KEY!

  71. Shawn

    Great post and just what I needed as I try and find new ways to foster independence with my twin girls, who will turn 6 next week. This age requires, I’m finding, creativity and patience as they often rely on me or each other. The squabbles are always a source of frustration for me — and intervening is often what I end up doing. I’d like to try and not do that and see what happens. ??? thanks for your post, Tsh!

  72. Scottish Mum

    The childish voice to speak to children is the one thing that raises the hackles up on the back of my neck. My children are nearing teenage hood, and people still do it as one is special needs, and from that, they take it that he is stupid is all I can think.

  73. Life 360

    It really is the bubble boy problem first seen in Seinfeld in the ’90s in a psychological sense. If you isolate them from the real world in a protective bubble, they will only get hit harder emotionally when they have to deal with it when you are not around. being a helicopter parent creates a detachment from reality and an unhealthy dependence on the parent that will probably come back to bite you. children learn from the freedom to make their own mistakes.

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