“By the time your child embarks on his or her first school trip, you will know that change is just around the corner and your dependant 10-year old is only a few years away from discovering their own independent life. They are just beginning to use their ‘wings’ to fly out of the warm nest that was their entire world. Short hops away from the nest become longer flights. Don’t think for a moment that your children will always want to be with you and need you. They won’t, and if you aren’t prepared for this fact, it will hit you like a ton of bricks.” The Second Half of Your Life (Random House, 2011) by Jill Shaw Ruddock
There are so many ways that parents can encourage independence in their children. While we love and adore them and the thought of sending them out into the big wide world is a daunting one, we do need to let out the kite strings little by little, increasing the space between us. This gives them opportunities to experience themselves apart from us. They learn to appreciate what they have with us but also that they can function independently too.
Encourage independence by:
- Allowing your child to sleepover at friends and family you trust and with whom they are comfortable, and do reciprocate the experience.
- Allowing your child to participate in activities from primary school onwards where you are not necessarily always on the side lines, they are not pleasing you but themselves.
- Allowing your child to walk to their classroom alone after the first week or so of grade one. They can do it. Let them go.
- Allowing your child to go on school tours and camps.
- Allowing your child to go on weekends away with other families.
Children build up their confidence in being their own person and standing in their own space without you, incrementally. You need to believe they will be okay even if you have a quiet weep in the car after dropping them off (something I have done on a number of occasions when my children have gone off on their first school tours and camps). The quiet weep is such a mixture of feelings of loss and separation (especially for mothers) as well as pride in their ‘braveness’ to go.
When they are spending time with other people, do keep in touch with them from time to time, or with the parents of the child with whom they are staying, if you are concerned. But, be careful of not transferring your own separation anxiety onto your child as this can quickly erode their new-found confidence, sewing seeds of doubt. I have experienced it so often when a child who was perfectly content has come for a playdate and a sleepover, and the mum has phoned and spoken to the child just before bedtime just to check if they are ok, and the next minute the child wants to go home. Don’t phone just before bedtime! Pick your moments or you may just sabotage their growth.
Allowing there to be space between you starts in small ways like using a babysitter from time-to-time, then spending a night apart, and then a weekend. Remember this is building a strength in your child of independence and adaptability. When they spend time in other people’s homes and on school camps etc, things are done differently to home and they learn how to adjust and adapt.
On this journey, you need to develop your own peace of mind about your child’s ability to cope without you. You can do it. And your child needs you to believe in them.
Creative parenting expert, inspirational speaker and co-author of Tech-Savvy Parenting (Bookstorm, 2014), Future-proof Your Child (Penguin, 2008), and Easy Answers to Awkward Questions (Metz Press, 2009)