Technology & Innovation

Fostering Independence in Elementary-Age Kids

Helping children set and understand boundaries for themselves and others and teaching them their value and autonomy will set them up for a lifetime of healthy interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships.

Parenting can be a tough tightrope to walk. 

Every child is different, and even if you have multiple children, it can be difficult to know for sure what each needs to be healthy and balanced in every stage of life. When it comes to elementary-school age, it’s often a time of transition for children. As such, some parenting methods should be adjusted to reflect that.

In particular, elementary-age is a key time for children to start understanding and experiencing independence. Handling responsibility and autonomy at the right age will help them to better understand and embrace healthy independence later in life. 

But what parenting methods are best for fostering independence at this age without overdoing it? Here are some key ways that parents can introduce their children to a healthy sense of independence that will set them up for productive and balanced adulthood.

Establishing Expectations

While it’s important for your child to know what’s expected of them at any age, it’s especially important to establish expectations early in their elementary years. Giving them a set of chores or a routine to stick to helps them to understand boundaries and consequences.

An understanding of these principles builds independence because it helps to solidify for children that they are in charge of their own actions and the results of their behavior. Learning to adhere to a routine helps foster self-motivation and self-discipline, which will serve them well when they’re older and can no longer rely solely on extrinsic motivations.

Not only will routine and task-oriented responsibility help your child learn healthy independence but it will also foster self-esteem.

Allowing Them To Experience Consequences 

A natural progression of establishing expectations for your child is to allow them to own their behavior. This can be difficult sometimes because, as parents, we don’t like to see our children upset or discouraged. 

However, allowing them to experience consequences will help them to better understand the link between actions and results, which will teach them to take responsibility for their own behavior, the ultimate in healthy independence.

Especially when another adult authority is involved, allow your children to fail and make that failure right again. If they face a negative consequence for breaking a rule at school, avoid coddling them. But also avoid making a tough situation tougher by expecting perfection or continuing to bring up your child’s mistakes over and over. 

An important part of fostering independence is teaching your child that we all make mistakes, we deal with the consequences, and then we can move on and do better next time.

Encouraging Relationships

When your children are young, they rely mostly on their parents as their caregivers and confidants. While continuing to encourage that openness and communication is important, it’s also good to allow your child to grow more and more comfortable building other relationships.

Setting up playdates for your child and allowing them to make and maintain friendships will help them to develop good social skills and social confidence that will serve them well in interacting with the world, one day, on their own. 

Of course, it’s always important to get to know the parents of your child’s friends and feel comfortable sending your child to someone else’s house. On the other hand, it’s also good to allow other parents to get to know you as they likewise trust you with supervising playdates.

Asking for Input

Allowing your child to make some age-appropriate contributions to family decisions will help them realize that their input is valued and their ideas are taken seriously. This is important for children to learn at this age.

Feelings of being helpful can encourage children to feel competent and more comfortable branching out in appropriate and healthy ways. When children feel seen and heard by parents in family matters, they’re more likely to take that security into their teenage and adult years, helping them to maintain good self-esteem and healthy attachment.

Next time you’re planning meals for the week or picking which movie to watch for family night, let your child give their input and take their considerations to heart. If you can’t honor the request in its entirety, then allow a compromise.

Teaching Them About Safety

Fear can be one reason that parents avoid helping their children achieve healthy independence. Because the world can be a dangerous place, many parents can default to helicopter mode. However, shielding your child and not teaching them how to handle safety issues will hamper their independence and contribute to an unhealthy self-image.

Help your child to understand how to recognize unsafe situations. Preparing them to listen for certain words in particular contexts and then giving them options of how to handle unsafe situations will help them to feel prepared and secure and will likely help you feel more at ease, as well.

Teaching them to recognize when adults ask them to keep secrets, where to find officers or security guards in areas you frequent in case you get separated and teaching them about privacy and bodily autonomy will give them options so they’re not caught off guard in the event of an emergency.

As they get older, you can amend and add to the information in age-appropriate ways to ensure that they are prepared for any unsafe situation in which they might find themselves.

Final Thoughts

When it all comes down to it, helping your elementary-age child develop healthy independence comes down to helping them understand the world around them in a developmentally appropriate way.

Helping children set and understand boundaries for themselves and others and teaching them their value and autonomy will set them up for a lifetime of healthy interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships.

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