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How to Foster Independence in Kids

It's tempting for parents to jump in and 'do' or 'fix.' But that won't help kids build confidence or self-reliance. Here are six tips to help your kids fly solo. Baby steps!

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Since noticing her son's interest in all things culinary, Sarah Chisholm has tried to nurture his skills. She's guided Callum, now 10, through reading recipes and supervised him putting pans into the oven.

But getting her three kids to pitch in at the kitchen wasn't always effortless, the Troy mom explains. Through trial-and-error, she's learned what works.

"I give each one of them their own job. Then I let them take turns doing their job in the kitchen. That way I can watch them – and also, there's no bickering. I can say, 'You've had your turn, now it's Anna's turn.'"

Still, Chisholm's efforts have paid off. She notices her kids feel more self-confident when they have responsibilities. In addition, she enjoys teaching her kids skills that they can use for the rest of their lives.

As parents, it can be difficult to hold back from helping your child do everything just right and instead let him experiment and get something done in his own way. Yet if you try to "fix" everything, he won't ever learn how to do it on his own. If you're looking to instill more independence in your kids – without losing your sanity in the process – here are a few tips.

1. Develop routines with your children

At bedtime, Chisholm's children, now 8, 10 and 12, know they need to brush their teeth and lay out their clothes and backpacks for school the next day. Chisholm admits that this preparation goes beyond helping her kids feel responsible. "Mornings are difficult," she says, especially with the mad dash to school. So her children get up and dressed on their own while Chisholm prepares breakfast.

Morning and night are obvious times to come up with predictable routines. Have your children involved in the planning. Sit them down and ask, "What can we do to make our mornings go more smoothly?" Chances are your children will come up with the same ideas you might have – and since they came up with the idea (not mom or dad), they'll be more likely to follow it. Your children may even pose some ideas you wouldn't have considered – like passing on toast and instead having a granola bar for breakfast. Or maybe your son wants to make his own lunch instead of buying from school or having you make the PB&J.

Beyond the morning and bedtime, look for other times that you can come up with a flexible schedule. Perhaps when your kids get home from school, they can be in charge of getting their own snack, instead of relying on a parent or caregiver.

2. Help your children become goal-setters

Independence often goes hand-in-hand with self-confidence. When your child feels like she has the ability to accomplish something small – like making her own bed – she'll then feel more able to do more difficult tasks, like washing dishes or figuring out fractions.

Help along her sense of self by teaching her to set goals. These goals don't have to be large tasks, or even for lengthy time periods. And the reward for her efforts should be her own sense of accomplishment, not necessarily a tangible toy or treat.

Household tasks are a good place to start with goal-setting. Identify with your child specific jobs that she can do around the house or in her own room. Ask her to develop a chart to mark off each day or week that she gets her job done.

And remember, goals don't have to be related to chores. Ask about your child's interests. Maybe she's studying astronomy at school and she loves learning about constellations. She could set a goal to learn three new constellations' names and locations each week. During the month, make sure to express interest in her goal. Go outside with her to stargaze – but also let her go out on her own sometimes, too.

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