Balancing equal measures of hope and fear, you release your grip on the back seat of your daughter's bike and watch her wobble away. Her face is hidden, but you can read her expression from where you stand because it mirrors your own. It's an exciting journey-raising kids and watching them master new talents and make good choices.
Read a few wise words from some experts about letting go of your child's hand:
1. Early on, routines provide the scaffolding from which to build independence in a number of ways: eating, sleeping, dressing, and helping with tasks around the house. Start with simple choices: "Since it's cold outside, would you like to wear the blue or the red long-sleeved shirt?" or "Would you like chicken or turkey to build those muscles?"
- Dr. James Livermore, pediatrician and father of three, Indiana
2. Independence comes from feeling competent or capable in the world. As parents give kids opportunities for responsibility, kids feel competent, capable, useful, and good about themselves.
- Dr. Patti Zomber, family psychologist and mother of three, California
3. Firm boundaries give kids a safe place to learn and grow. By letting them help define the boundaries, we empower them to become independent thinkers who make good choices. My wife and I require our kids to read at home, for example, but allow them to help decide when and how many pages to read per day.
- Scott Benedict, behavioral counselor in the Tunkhannock Area School District and father of two, Pennsylvania
4. Kids get the most out of what they accomplish for themselves. Children will get more out of making a decision on their own—even if it's wrong—than they will out of parents making that decision for them.
- Foster W. Cline, M.D., and Jim Fay in Parenting with Love and Logic (Pinon Press, 2006)
5. Give kids plenty of free, unscripted time where they can work out their own agendas. When kids gather for imaginary play or even a backyard soccer game, they learn about problem-solving and negotiating.
- Dawn Miller, licensed social worker and director of Youth Outreach, Massachusetts
6. Our students receive planners for keeping track of assignments and checkbooks for monitoring "rewards" for special reward days. It's a fun and practical way to let them manage their own outcomes.
- Glenda Helmick, third grade teacher, mother of two, and grandmother of three, Florida
7. Parents can only give good advice or put [children] on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.
- Anne Frank, from her diary, written during her family's years of hiding in World War II
8. It takes patience, but slowing down gives your child the chance to do it all by herself, whether "it" is climbing into a car seat, tying shoes, or typing an e-mail to Grandma.
- Alyson Overton, occupational therapist and mother of two, Colorado
How Do You Know When They're Ready?
Allowing kids to master age-appropriate tasks can build independence. The trick is defining "age-appropriate." Understanding your kids' personalities, along with a measure of common sense, will help you find tasks that are just the right fit.
ages 2 to 5
Pick up toys
Hang clothes on hooks
Help feed pets
Help wipe up spills
Pour from a small, unbreakable pitcher
Clear dishes from the table
Get the mail
Carry in some groceries
ages 6 to 8
Begin keeping a simple school planner
Begin to manage allowance
Help sweep or rake leaves
Help fold and put away laundry
Take out the trash
ages 9 to 12
Keep a detailed school planner
Complete homework independently
Keep a savings account
Babysit (first as a mother's helper)
Prepare simple meals
Use the washer and dryer
Sources: familyfirst.net; aap.org; housekeeping.about.com; mommysavers.com.;
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