If you want your kids to become independent, first you need to teach them the necessary skills. Being able to dress themselves, make a snack, look up a bus timetable and make a CV are examples of self-sufficiency skills that are important at different stages of their lives.
You can help your kids develop critical thinking processes that actually create independence. If they don’t have these, they will always be relying on others regardless of their own ability and skills.
But they won’t just learn these on their own. Awareness, teaching and opportunity are the main requirements that motivate kids to develop their skills. First, they need to be aware that there is a task that needs to be completed. Then they need to actually acquire the skills needed for that task – some will take more teaching than others. Finally, they need the opportunity to complete the task by putting those skills into practice.
There is however, a deeper level you can go to help them grow more independent. You can help your kids develop critical thinking processes that actually create independence. If they don’t have these, they will always be relying on others regardless of their own ability and skills.
The three key processes of independence are:
The ability to think ahead and plan in advance is essential for true independence. What are the three things you need to get ready for school? What do you need to do to complete your homework in time for the weekend? Help kids get into the habit of thinking ahead by helping them visualise scenarios in their heads and predict various outcomes, so they can become more proactive and accountable. Otherwise kids will just rely on others to tell them what to do and when.
The trouble with everything being instantly available and ready-made is that kids don’t see the steps and procedures required to make, bake or do anything. It also means kids don’t develop procedural self-talk (‘that comes first, when I’ve done that now I need to do this’) because they’ve never needed to develop abilities like sorting, sequencing and planning that are required to complete complex tasks.
The ability to get yourself organised is paramount to real independence from others. Forgetful kids usually don’t have a process for remembering important details. My adult son came to stay recently and placed his car keys in the refrigerator on top of his 6 pack of beer that he wanted to take with him. His method may have been unorthodox, but he has a working system for remembering where his keys are!
If you want your kids to become truly independent, you have to think in terms of processes as well as skills. Kids learn by example, so they will most likely pick up a great deal of good organisational processes just by watching you. But you may also need to do some direct teaching, particularly with boys who by nature tend to be a little organisationally-challenged!