How to Teach Your Child Independence

Many parents are deeply involved in their child's life. Doing it the wrong way creates dependence, but do it the right way and you'll teach your child self-reliance.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #326

Help Them Learn From Mistakes

Praising effort is your first step. But take it to the next level and help your child learn from their mistakes.

The U.S. Army does wargame simulations. After each simulation, they debrief the battle in detail in an after-action review. There, they review all the decisions that everyone made, and decide how they'll approach the situation differently next time.

When your child gets a poor grade, or doesn't win an award or contest, sit down with them and have an after-action review. Instead of saying, "You should have studied more," ask them, "What do you think you could have done differently to get a better grade or win the award?" Get them in the habit of reviewing their own situation and coming up with a new action plan to do better next time.

Help Them Learn from Success

An even more subtle approach is to help them learn from success. In today's "every child must win an award for everything" environment, when your child wins an award, also do an after-action review. Ask them, "Why do you think you won this? Does it mean anything? Do you deserve it? Why or why not?"

Remember to help your student to think in terms of effort and focusnot in terms of innate ability. If they say, "Sandeep won first place because Sandeep is just smarter than I am," ask, "How much do you think Sandeep studied? Did Sandeep practice more than you?" Help your child realize that yes, people have innate strengths, but determined learning can often be the deciding factor, much more than innate ability.

Let Them Guide

Sometimes, kids truly get stuck in a schoolastic or social situation. Don't just solve it for them willy-nilly, or even give them the answer right away. Let them learn to solve their own problems, but make yourself available as they want you involved.

Say, "You seem pretty stuck. I'm here as a resource. How do you want to solve your homework/school/social problem, with me as a resource?" They may still ask you to step them through a solution, but they'll have ownership of the process, rather than you doing it for them. And every now and then, you may want to say, "I'd rather not help just yet. I believe you can do this on your own."

When I was really young, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was supposed to be on TV. Instead, a football game was running over, pre-empting the TV show. I was upset, and complained to my father. "Don't complain to me," he said. "Call the TV station and tell them." He showed me how to use a phone book, and I looked up the TV station, called, and complained. It was still a joint parent/child project, but it was one that taught me independence. It took two decades and $43,000 worth of therapy, but gosh darn it, it taught me independence!

I taught Europa these key principles: praise the effort, not the person; help them learn from failure and success; and let them drive the process.

"Too bad Thomas has grown up until now without that," I commented. Europa just smiled, summoned Thomas, and pulled out his battery pack (I guess that answers that question.) A few keystrokes into his central processing unit and she powered him back on, giving him a completely new childhood. Minutes later, he jumped up and ran to his room to work on his trigonometry homework. "Now, he has had a more independent childhood," Europa declared, "and he seems much happier for it." All I could think was that Thomas just saved himself $43,000 in therapy bills.

I'm Stever Robbins. I can run an awesome productivity workshop for your trade show or management offsite, complete with a zombie musical. If you want to know more and see a promo video for the musical, visit http://worklessanddomore.com.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

Photos of kid in classroom, mom and daughter, and father and son courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.