Looking back, many of us will remember specific moments when our children took a significant step to independence. The feelings we had the first time we left them with a babysitter, the first sleepover, the first day at school or the first trip to town may be etched on our minds. We know that our task as parents is to encourage our children to move from dependence to independence, but it can be so hard!
As parents we’re hardwired to protect our children. It’s as if we want to keep them on the end of a tight piece of string to make sure they stay safe and are equipped for every eventuality. But a wise friend once said to me, ‘Don’t use string, use elastic.’ If we use string from the beginning, then as they seek their independence, that string will go taut and eventually snap. But if we use elastic, it will gradually stretch as we give them more responsibility as they grow up.
I like the idea of parenting with elastic. It makes the road to independence much easier for our children and also for us. From the day they take those first few faltering steps, we are beginning a process that will ultimately end with them standing on their own two feet long-term.
We can start this process when they are quite young by offering a choice of two alternatives for everyday occurrences. For example, ‘Do you want your drink in the blue cup or the yellow cup?’ ‘Would you like peas or beans for tea?’ ‘Do you want to take your bike or your scooter to the park?’ We can then move on to giving them limited choices, such as what to wear – even if the pink flowery, orange check, red spots and green striped combination will require sunglasses all round.
As they get older we can give them freedom to choose how to spend pocket money, what colour to paint their room, what music they listen to, how to spend their time.
In giving our children limited choices appropriate to their age, we also give them the freedom to learn from the consequences of their decisions, which nudges them further along the road to independence. A friend…