As hard as it is for parents to imagine, one day, their baby is going to sign their own declaration, leave home and be independent. Kids strive for independence from the age of 1½ to 2 years old, when you try to dress them and they say, “No, no, me”, and keep trying to do things themselves.
Much like many countries around the world, kids can get their independence after war and “bloodshed” or after signing a “peace treaty” with the society around them. And much like the independence of countries is mainly the result of what their leaders do, with kids, it is a mainly the result of what their parents do.
Do you feel it is a heavy responsibility? Well, it is! But if you think deeply about it, you will find that power goes hand in hand with responsibility. Parents have lots of power in leading their kids to design their declaration of independence and sign it.
The confusion between chores and independence
If you talk to most parents (when they are calm), they will tell you that independence is very important. Yet when I ask them how if they teach independence, they talk about chores. My mom did the same. She said, “If you do the dishes from the age of 10, when you live in your own home, you will be able to do the dishes”. We told her, “No, Mom. If I wash the dishes from the age of 10, by the time I am grown up, I will hate and resent it so much I will avoid washing the dishes”.
Even though my mom did not think that fun and motivation had anything to do with the kind of grownups we would become, she still wanted us to be independent. I think that much like many other parents, she confused doing chores with independence.
I am not saying that chores are not important and that they cannot teach children responsibility and independence. What I am saying is that making kids do their chores through fighting is not as effective as making kids do their chores with respect, support, love and understanding. Simple, isn’t it?
The good thing about kids is that they strive for independence from a very early age. It is part of their emotional development and is very healthy. Some parents call those incidents “disobedience”, “conflicts” or “questioning my authority”. I call it “testing the boundaries” (I do not mean testing the parents’ boundaries but the children’s own boundaries) and I believe it is one of the healthiest processes and parents, being the ultimate leaders, can make good use of this natural tendency.
While grownups tend to give up easily, kids will try doing things over and over again despite the dirt, the messiness, the mismatch in colors and their awkwardness, as long as they enjoy it. If we change our perception from “power struggle” to “striving for independence”, we will be able to our kids enjoy the process, we will be able to raise independent kids from as early 2 years old, and when they do leave home, we can be confident they will do it brilliantly.
Strengthening the choice muscle
Independent kids are able to fulfill their own needs. Of course there are limitations to this ability, because a baby cannot cook his/her own meal or change his/her own diaper. Yet, I think we can teach them independent by giving them choices from an early age and teach them how to choose well.
When you give your kids a choice, they interpret it as, “although you are small and I am big and powerful, I ask for your opinion, I accept your choices I respect you”. This attitude makes sure you will not get into war with your kids, not to mention that you are helping them develop a sense of independence by giving them opportunities to trust and learn from their own judgment.
Since I have said this so many times in my workshops and presentation, I know you may now be thinking, “But we cannot give them a choice between washing or not washing the dishes”, and you are right. That is not what I meant.
I agree that you cannot always give your kids the choice between drawing on the wall and not drawing on the wall, but you can give them many other choices, like “Would you like to draw on the whiteboard or with chalks on the driveway?”
I dare say that when you think of conflicts between you and your kids, regardless of their age, it is due to them feeling their choices are not respected and them not having enough opportunities to choose. When I talk to people about some of the bad things their teenagers are doing, I think they are doing it because they do not know how to fulfill their own needs in better ways, because their “choice muscle” is very weak.
Yes, I agree it is not easy to start working this muscle at the age of 16, when your teenager runs away from school, hangs around drugs and is picked up by the police, but we can practice our own choice muscle and understand that we have the power to choose whether to accept the situation by fooling ourselves and saying, “All teens are the same”, “She’s hormonal” and “There’s nothing I can do” or to change it.
Join me next week for some tips in developing the choice muscle and independent thinking in your children and teenagers.