Validating Your Child's Need For Independence
Updated: Jul 21
As part of our PARENTING DURING A PANDEMIC SERIES we checked in with a few board members and their children to see how they are navigating the shift. We also called several families in our community and asked how they are doing.
While some are finding silver linings, others are struggling to maintain a routine and stay on top of distance learning expectations. If you are struggling - you're not alone! The challenges morph depending on personal circumstances and the age and mindset of your children.
THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE IS TEEN APPROVED
How do we get teens to stay home and truly practice physical distancing? It’s hard, but I think we start with empathy. We start by acknowledging that there are a variety of reactions to our circumstances and that - despite those reactions - we are all called to do this hard thing. If there was ever a time to practice what we preach – equality for all – it's now.
That said, it is not a one size fits all world and it’s hard to get us all on the same page. It’s even harder when faced with a loss of control. It’s hard enough for parents to grapple with a loss of control over their carefully ordered lives. We also need to realize that the independence teens have been working to attain as part of their natural development has been ripped away from them and they are itching to reassert themselves.
Aside from communicating why we have a responsibility to follow the Stay at Home mandate, we need to communicate that we understand why this is hard for them, and acknowledge that it is hard for us, as parents, too. It's natural for teens to want to retain their sense of independence. Giving them that sense of independence may require us to think outside the box. We still need to hold them accountable for the way they spend their time but maybe we can give them some control over how they approach that time.
In the book, The Self-Driven Child, coauthors Ned Johnson William Stixrud, PhD point out that “(…) our role is to teach them to think and act independently, so that they will have the judgement to succeed in school and, most important, in life. Rather than pushing them to do things they resist, we should seek to help them find things they love and develop their inner motivation. Our aim is to move away from a model that depends on parental pressure to one that nurtures a child’s own drive.” Bill and Ned go on to ask parents to “consider a different philosophy that that of parent as enforcer: that of parent as consultant.”
They acknowledge that this is not an easy shift for parents to make but suggest “if you want to give your children more of a sense of control, you will have to let go of some of yourself. A consultant who loses his wits when the company doesn’t hit its target or fail to reach its full potential becomes part of the problem. Remember that your job is not to solve your children’s problems but to help them learn to run their own lives. This reframing means that while we should guide, support, teach, help, and set limits for our kids, we should be clear – with them and with ourselves – that their lives are their own.”
So, how do we do this during a global pandemic when they are ordered to stay home and feel like they have lost any control they had managed to gain? As stated above, there is not a one size fits all solution but here are a few suggestions based on tips from former Raising Resilience presenters and parenting experts:
Let them make their own schedule. We can reserve the right to edit it but let them get the ball rolling.
Ask them what their priorities for this time are – and listen. We can adjust the order of what needs to be prioritized to make sure they are spending their time responsibly and appropriately but let them incorporate what is important to them into their schedule. They need outlets as much, if not more, than we do.
Let them have more input. Ask them for a list of meals they would like. Discuss the options and then given them responsibility for figuring out the recipes, checking pantries for what you already have, and making a grocery list for what you do not. Ordering groceries for pickup online? If they drive and need to get out of the house, let them do the pickup.
If you need to keep them on a stricter schedule most of the time, consider giving them a “freebie” day each week – one day to spend the way they want to spend it - within the confines of the Stay at Home mandate and your family values. One day with no expectations may give them the sense of freedom they are craving.
Go back to the basics and practice positive parenting. It’s easy to focus on what the kids (or our partners) are doing wrong. Let’s try to flip the script and focus on what they’re doing right. Need some inspiration? Click here to access the slides from the Positive Parenting workshop Peggy Koivu facilitated for Raising Resilience last year.
If you notice something positive, point it out, subtly. Thank them for helping, for taking responsibility for their schedule and their schoolwork, and for staying home even though it’s hard. Thank them for rising to the occasion and doing this hard thing that we all have to do. And then pat yourself on the back because this is hard for you, too.
WHAT ABOUT YOUNGER KIDS?
That strive for independence starts early and you can adapt and practice similar rules with younger children, too. Parenting experts such as Dan Siegel, Laura Kastner or Jane Nelsen turn to neuroscience and child development and advise us to first empathize and help children achieve their goals within the boundaries set by us.
Although tricky - especially during this time of chaos and uncertainty - it is key not to take the frequent tantrums and meltdowns personally and recognize the feelings behind the explosive behavior (after we have taken a few of those deep breaths ourselves). Redirecting and providing little ones with opportunities to be helpful not only addresses their need for independence but also helps calm fears and offers a sense of control. Many of the tools suggested for teens can be adapted for the younger crowd, too.
Including children in setting daily schedules can be very powerful and visuals are often helpful (kids might enjoy drawing pictures of chores and tasks). The parent still sets the boundaries, but children are offered choices (i.e. will they practice writing before or after free choice etc. Will they brush their teeth before after getting dressed etc.).
Play – especially the unstructured, child-driven and imaginative kind - is equally important as it gives us insight into what children are thinking about, helps them make sense of what is happening around them, and gives them the sense of control we all crave. Plus, it helps us connect easily as a family and is a sure way to deflate tension.