Raising self-reliant children

When you first started being a parent did you think that this was an eighteen-year job? We’ve all heard of the children who in their twenties and even thirties come back to live with their parents. But what should we be doing as parents that help our children learn to be responsible and independent?

The ‘magical milestones’ of independence

One of the things I did when my children were growing up was to explain to them the ‘magical milestones of childhood’. I explained the amazing truth: that the day they started primary school they could magically wipe their own bottoms properly and make their own lunch boxes. (And it worked!) And the day they started secondary school they were suddenly old enough to manage all their own homework and assignments.

Doing too much

However, sometimes I wonder if I do too much for my children. I gave up work for eleven years to raise my four children, and after that have only worked part-time to enjoy them as much as I can.  But in the process, I think I lost sight of how mature and competent my children were
getting. Each of my teenage daughters has at one time done all the cleaning and ironing for pocket money. But I have always done all the washing, shopping and cooking and frequently tidied up after them. A recent back operation that required me to do nothing for six weeks helped me realise that my teenagers were perfectly capable of cooking family meals, washing and clearing up. In the interests of helping them to be even more responsible, I think there may be a little more sharing of the jobs around the house!

So what could you do to encourage responsibility in your child?

Toddlers and pre-school children can …

  • Clear the table
  • Lay the table
  • Wipe surfaces
  • Put their toys away

Primary school children can …

  • Make their own lunch boxes
  • Tidy their own bedrooms
  • Dust, vacuum and wash up
  • Take out the rubbish
  • Wash a car and
  • Care for a pet or walk the dog

Secondary school children (boys as well as girls) can …

  • Continue all of the above (including tidying up after themselves!)
  • Clean kitchens and bathrooms
  • Iron clothes
  • Cook simple meals
  • Manage their own money (without a bail-out from the bank of Mum & Dad)
  • Wash windows and
  • Be responsible for all their own homework and assignments.

Planning to train your child

I am sure that some of you will be aghast at one or two (or perhaps all) of these suggestions. But if we want our children to be responsible we need to train them – that’s our job as parents. If you have missed some magical milestones maybe the new year, birthdays or new school years could be the time to introduce some changes. Alternatively, agree changes with your partner if you have one, then get the family together and talk about how you want your sons and daughters to take a fair share of the work. The earlier it starts the easier it is.

The benefits of self-reliance

Of course, you will have realised the huge benefit to your time of enlisting your children’s help. Maybe as a reward, you could use some of the extra time to do fun things with the children. They may not be too pleased with the changes but we will be doing everyone a favour if our children know how to care for themselves well before we send them off into the world.

By the way two of my children are now in secondary school and still make their own lunch boxes, unlike many of their school friends. And yes, they still moan occasionally!

The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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