From Holding Them Tight ‘Til they go out of our sight…
BY: Joanne Trina Moreno • Feb 28, 2020
Building an Independent Mindset Among Children In this Generation
“ It is not what you do for your children, but you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.” Ann Landers
The issue of independence is often an area of interest and focus across all developmental stages. This encompasses social status, gender or race. As soon as we are born, we are groomed and stimulated to be “independent” to be able to survive and grow. This concept is at the periphery of the thoughts of primary caregivers. In the natural environment, animals are considered “independent” in an average of 18 months- 2 years. Most of them are born blind. They are raised by their mothers to be independent; they are protected from prey but are taught life skills at the same time. Comparably, both the human and animal species give emphasis on the important role of caregivers in the formation of skills early on. However, the human species have expectations that we are raised to become important contributors to the society… and independence is one key skill that is necessary to achieve this goal.
In as far as my roles as a mother, teacher and psychologist are concerned, I have had a number of things that would be helpful in developing such skill.
The first important acknowledgment is that this skill can be taught as early as infancy. Start them young. This of course, needs to be age appropriate. The grasping reflex of infants prepares them for skills that make them hold on to things. If bottle-fed, make them grasp the bottle. As they learn to balance, allow them to hold on to a firm structure or even your arm. As they grow up, approaching to become toddlers, allow them to eat on their own, despite the mess. The basic skill of feeding oneself requires a lot of patience. This calls for more time allotted for these activities, which could be made faster, if we just feed them with help. However, it is basically these basic things that allow the child to rely on oneself. It also is an opportunity for them to enjoy the task, instead of looking at it as a “chore.” Then as the child develops, a number of opportunities arise, that make them exercise decision-making more. A four-year-old can choose her own clothes. Yes, I do admit that their choice of fashion makes me cringe at times, but that’s not their problem. We can gently suggest, yes, but making them choose the clothes they want to wear is empowering them enough that slowly helps them gain confidence in making the next one. These little things, that we allow them to do, are building blocks to grooming a person who practices making decisions. We do not treat them like little adults, we allow them to be children, free to decide on things within their bounds. As they continue to grow older, the kinds of decisions they make will have an impact on the life that they will have. Thus, it will further develop their accountability for their actions.
The best cue” that children would take will be from their immediate environment. Therefore, it is important to “model” the said skill to them. It merely means to show them that we ourselves, are willing to try out things and activities that are beyond our knowledge or direct experience. This is a facet of independence that is not given much importance. Do not mistake this as feigning bravery or courage. Definitely not. It is important to be transparent to them that you may be scared of trying out novel things (may it be a new dish, a new career path or new fashion statement). The idea here is to make sure that these fears or hesitations are being processed with them. They may even be asked about their ideas or thoughts about them. Again, we will have to be more mindful of their level of understanding when doing so.
Another form of “modeling” independence is to be aware of one’s own strengths, so they see how you continue to build on it, and your weaknesses, so you can continue to work on it. Your awareness of these will give a good example that there are steps that can be done to either enhance (strengths) and improve (weaknesses). These are not mere static facets of a person.
This brings a significant tool that is essential in developing an “independent mindset” – goal setting. The first few goal sets may come in simpler forms, which could have something to do with school activities and routine, to reaching long-term ones (e.g. to become a doctor someday). These short-term goals can be best shown through how you design your own activities. Therefore, alignment of what you are doing with the goals that you have in mind can be evidently observed by the children. Misalignments do happen but make sure that they are discussed and explained in the language that they do understand and they find relevance it.
Exemplifying good problem solving and sound decision making is also recommended. This will not be done through lectures or discussions, but actions in actual situations. For example, involve them in coming up with a menu for the week. From this, several chores may spring about, that could allow a “distribution” of these tasks accordingly, based on competency.
It is not too late to start doing these things. The last recommendation is to Start NOW! 😊