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How to Raise an Independent Child

Hint: Lean Out (Really. It works.)

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New research is raising serious concerns about overprotective parenting.
How to Raise an Independent Child

Increasingly, studies indicate that parents who are too controlling may interfere with their kids’ creative play and provoke strong negative feelings in children. One study in particular suggests that moms who allow their little ones to engage in independent play enjoy a better relationship with their kids than do moms who are too directive.

But here’s the thing about hovering: We all do it—out of concern for our kids’ safety, to protect them from failure, or because we, parents who may be guilty of helicopter parenting, can’t strike a balance between doing for our kids and teaching them to do for themselves. Need to loosen the reins a bit? The tips here will help you raise an independent child.

1. Start early.

Even toddlers are capable of a measure of self-care—a first step on the road to independence. Two- and three-year-old kids can retrieve sneakers from the closet, locate a coat, pop an empty juice box into the trash, toss clothes into a hamper, and carry a plate from the table. Encourage your child to take on age-appropriate duties. Provide clear, easy-to-follow instructions, don’t over direct, and applaud the effort (even if his socks don’t match the outfit).

2.  Encourage self-reliance.

The more a child can do for herself, the more confident she’ll be surmounting obstacles and handling herself in new situations. Suppress the urge to rescue. Let her pull her bike over a curb, or put it away by herself later. She learns by doing. Stand by, coach, encourage, but don’t take over. If your child struggles, be supportive. Acknowledge the effort and, if she’s really stumped, suggest a solution or demonstrate a maneuver.  Say, “I can see how hard you’re trying.”

3. Stay positive.

Guide your child and set boundaries (“You can play on the floor, not on the steps.”) Then let him practice decision-making. Tell him, for example, “It’s time for lunch. When you finish, you can decide whether you want to play with your Lincoln Logs or your Legos.” After that, lean out: Don’t over direct. That sends a negative message and erodes self-reliance. Raise a can-do kid. Give your child a chance to play, enjoy, develop new skills, and experiment—without hovering.

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