In our opinion, helping your child develop appropriate independent life skills is THE most important job of a parent. Young adults who can be authentically independent are happier, have better self-esteem and are more successful than those who cannot do for themselves.
Imagine your child when s/he is 21 years old. What do you imagine they can do 100% independent of you?
For some, this could be living on their own, going to school or work.
For others, it’s living at home, and relatively independent with self-care, chores, maybe a job to contribute to household costs and have some spending money.
Some may just be leaving high school and need a few more years to be settled into their young adult lifestyle.
You know your child best, so please take some time to imagine what 21 looks like. We know you don’t have a crystal ball and your child’s development will surprise you, but for most kids with unique developmental paths, we need to start teaching skills of independence, as they often don’t come easily.
Life skills don’t just show up. They must be taught over years.
While we tend to focus intensely on academic achievement for all children, we often lose sight of what will lead them to a relatively happy adulthood. A young adult who can read “War and Peace,” won’t be too happy if he can’t independently and appropriately feed, clothe or clean himself and his surroundings.
Your job, then, is to determine what skills your child may be able to do independently now and in the near future with some support.
Again, this will look different for every child and will evolve over time.
Be Mindful of Authentic Success
Your children are capable of doing lots of things. Yet, some tasks are complex and difficult for them. Be mindful of your child’s islands of competence and weakness.
When working to build skills of independence, don’t lose the forest for the trees.
As parents, we often get stuck obsessing about the skills our child lacks, rather than building upon their strengths.
For example, you want your child to have a clean room and that isn’t always easy for fun. You also need the lawn mowed and your child is good at that task. If he’d rather mow the lawn, let him go and save the room cleaning as a skill you work on over time. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to be today. Who knows.. maybe your child could have a thriving landscaping business when he’s in his 20s? You’d never see that happen if you repeatedly told him to sit in his messy room all day and struggle to organize it before he was allowed outside.
Try to maintain an authentic success mindset and recognize what is done well. Try not to get stuck in negative cycles of pointing out the few things that aren’t going well right now.
What’s the goal?
Ultimately, there are a few basic, foundational life skills all of our children need to master if they will be independent one day. These include basic:
- healthy food preparation,
- appropriate sleep routines,
- money management,
- keeping to a schedule/time management,
- being responsible to work/volunteer supervisor
Notice none of these require mastering calculus or getting the highest score on a test. We like to focus on the skills that help your child thrive in the long run.
How to Get Started
Start by listing tasks she can currently do (i.e. set the table) and skills you want her to reach for (i.e. cook a simple dinner).
For teens it’s a good idea to start looking toward young adult independence. Will they get a driver’s license? Take post high school classes? Go to college? Live independently? Get a job? What skills do they need to be independently successful at those tasks?
Start teaching age appropriate, skill appropriate chores as soon as possible. Even 4 year olds can help take clothes out of the drier and put their toys away.
Every 4-6 months add a new chore.
Step up in responsibility and independence gradually and consistently over time.
The process toward independence can start today. Plan for the long term, give chores, recognize all forward steps, let go of perfection and watch your child begin to soar toward authentic success and independence!