Dealing with my kids’ constant demands is one of my least favorite parts of parenthood. Someone always needs another snack or expects me to know where to find their bike helmet or needs help putting on pants that they decided to take off completely, underwear still attached, inside-out in order to use the restroom.
I didn’t sign up for this parenting gig expecting to be a butt-wiper, 24-hour concession stand and water boy, and I want to believe there will be a day (someday soon, I hope) when my kids will not need me quite so much. Therefore, I am trying to actively make sure I am doing my best to raise independent kids.
Here are a few tips on how to make your kids more independent so you can get a little break from their constant neediness (or at least train them to get their own snacks).
Ages 3 – 6
Start a chore chart: Begin chore charts early on to start teaching your kids that you are not their maid or butler. Making their bed, cleaning their rooms and even making a simple snack for themselves are all things they can do given enough time and practice.
Get in a routine: Visual routine cards can help young kids get into the habit of completing their morning and evening routines without so much nagging from you.
Learn their vitals: Now is the time for kids to learn their age, phone number and home address — and it doesn’t need to be hard when you use fun games or songs.
Remember: Patience is needed for progress. Teaching kids to do things for themselves at this age takes a lot of time and repetition. It is way quicker and easier to just do things for them, but give them the time and space they need to gain independence.
Ages 7 – 10
Start the alarm: Buy your kid an alarm clock and take the morning wake-up call off your to-do list.
Time to speak up: Ordering at restaurants, answering questions, ordering pizza on the phone — it’s time to make sure your kid knows how to hold conversations with adults and convey their message clearly.
Begin personal planning: Move on from the visual routine and let your kids start mapping out their days and weeks with more detail. A great way to get them interested in planning is to let them take the lead on some vacation activity-planning.
Remember: Resist the urge to save the day. Kids are going to make mistakes and want to quit, but instead of swooping in a fixing it for them, give them the space they need to figure out solutions on their own.
Ages 11 – 14
Be budget savvy: Now is the time to start a checking and savings account and giving your kids a little more freedom with their money. Teach them how to balance a checkbook and introduce them to the inner workings of the family budget.
Make appointments: Does your kid need a haircut or dentist appointment? Have them pick up the phone and make the call.
Dinner duty: If the 8- to 13-year-olds on MasterChef Junior can whip up a croquembouche, your kid can probably handle making a casserole every now and again. Give them some weekly dinner duties and let them find recipes they feel equipped to master.
Remember: They can do a lot more than your think. As the little kid years fade away, they want to test out what it’s like to “be grown up,” so make room for them to grow in maturity by upping their freedom appropriately.
Ages 15 – 18
Get a job: Whether it’s babysitting on the weekends, starting an online business or slinging hot dogs in the Target food court (even less glamorous than it sounds, I assure you) it’s time to start working for someone other than mom and dad.
Get a license: When you’re talking independence, no step is quite as monumental as setting out on the open road. Want to make the experience extra empowering? Make them pay for part (or all) of their vehicle purchase, teach them to negotiate the price, ensure they are covering maintenance and completing all the legal paperwork themselves.
Own your finances: As your kids get ready to enter the real world, they should be doing more than managing a mini-budget. Let them take control of their finances completely. Transfer money to make them pay for their own extracurriculars, get them into good savings habits (including retirement) and have them take charge on paying some of the household bills (and if they incur late fees, make them foot the bill).
Remember: Even though they may be on the verge of adulthood, they aren’t all the way grown yet. As frustrating as it may be to see them make simple mistakes, keep in mind that it’s better for them to blunder big-time at home than out in the real world.