Fostering independence in our children is not necessarily an easy and comfortable task for a parent, yet if we don’t what message are we inadvertently sending them?
I can do (insert task here) better than
you. I am in control. I don’t believe in you.
Of course this isn’t our intentions
rather as a mom, some of the ways we show our love to our little ones is by dressing them, feeding them, serving them, changing their bottoms and a thousand other things. We DO for our children because we love them.
Here’s where it gets complicated for me. See, I’m also an elementary teacher. As a teacher, I see the students in my classroom who need my encouragement and support to take each step. They shoot glances my way, waiting for approval on tasks they are able to do themselves. They check in frequently even with clear, consistent and posted guidelines. They ask me a question that they either a) know the answer to or b) could ask a friend. These are the children who often need extended time to complete their work, and struggle with independent homework.
For some children the reasons for their need for extra support is based on real anxiety and developmental issues. For others, I see
evidence that they have not had much opportunity to do things for themselves nor to be allowed room to make mistakes or take responsibility for themselves and their actions. How can I tell this? By parents repeatedly bringing their schoolbags to them, rushing their homework or forgotten gym shoes over to school on their lunch hours, and by the students who almost always blame others for their personal actions.
Becoming a mom has given me a lot of perspective and brought a new level of empathy to my teaching but I remain true to my belief that children need the opportunity to learn to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. This can mean supporting their decision to try out for a sport team, choose a book, or an uncoordinated outfit. This can also mean supportively standing by as their child does not complete their homework or gets reprimanded for saying unkind things to a peer and dealing with the consequences.
On the path to independence our roles as parents will fluctuate. Sometimes we will be cheerleaders and sometimes we will be firm but we can ALWAYS be there with a cuddle.
My two selves are frequently in a battle of wills, and each day, I just do my best by my children. This means, I stand back and hold my breath, and rein in my initial desire to do for my both my sons as long as it remains safe…
He shakily brings me a drink. He puts his shirt on backwards, only noticing that he got it on himself. I can save the lesson for another day about how to put the shirt of with the picture facing out. Empties his drink on his tray and splashes and giggles. Feeds himself oatmeal with his hands I smile. I clap. I know that these
actions are small steps towards independence.
Sara Vartanian is both the owner of Toronto Mompreneurs a business devoted to supporting women and moms in business through networking and educational events as well as changeMatt, an online cloth diaper and parenting store. She has been a Toronto area elementary teacher for nine years.
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