By Nohad Mouawad
As parents, we spend so much time worrying about whether or not we’re doing right by our kids. Are we giving them the best education? Do they spend too much time on screens? Have they met their milestones in development and learning? Are we feeding them enough fruits and vegetables?
All these questions and more are constantly popping into our head, and we’re not sure if we have the answers. Every day we wake up and try again. We try our best to raise our kids and not lose our tempers, to make sure that they learn, grow, and thrive.
In a modern world filled with concerned parents, we often forget to ask whether our kids are actually growing up to be “capable” and “independent.” There are bloggers and researchers who talk about these topics, from budgeting and lifestyle guru Jordan Page (Fun Cheap or Free) who coined the hashtag #raisingcapablekids, to the world renowned child psychologist Maria Montessori, who created an entire educational approach based on making children more independent.
But, what does it mean to raise capable kids in 2023, especially somewhere like the UAE, where life can be comfortable, easy and even luxurious? Is it important to push our kids to be independent? Or are they just kids who need our help and who aren’t mature enough yet to fend for themselves and make important decisions?
Start Small: The Montessori Method starts by approaching kids from baby and toddlerhood and making their living and learning space easy for them to use. This method encourages kids to dress themselves, put their own things away and even serve and prepare their own food and drinks. This method obviously needs a big commitment from parents when setting up the spaces in their homes, and it might not be easy for your own family. You can, however, learn a few things from the Montessori approach. The first is that even toddlers can do things for themselves if we make it easy enough for them. That means being patient and giving kids clothes and shoes that are easy to put on and take off, which can make them more independent.
Also, that, even though it may take longer and be more frustrating, it’s a good idea to encourage kids to put their own things away, learn how to get themselves a cup of water, or to make themselves a simple snack. When we put their things where they can reach them, they are more likely to get them themselves. Kids as young as 2 can make their own bed if it’s just straightening the comforter. Such as simple task as making your bed and folding your pyjamas to put them under the pillow can be an important step in learning how to take care of yourself.
I will never forget a friend of mine telling me the story of when she was teaching, that her 8 year-old student demanded that she tie his shoe laces. He had never had to do it himself, as there was always someone to do it for him. My kids were toddlers at the time she told me the story, but it stuck with me as a cautionary tale of what I would like to avoid.
When teaching our kids to be independent, it starts with the smallest actions of learning to get something for themselves, put something away, and to get dressed or tie their own shoes.
Be Age Appropriate: As our kids get older, and grow out of toddlerhood into big kids, how do we know what’s okay for them to do on their own, like crossing the street? How do we know if they are ready to ride a bike without training wheels or go on a school overnight trip or even try a difficult activity? It all starts by preparing them, and then by understanding what they are capable of at that age. Get them to start helping you in the kitchen as young as possible, so that by the time they are 8 years old, they can make their own sandwich, and by the time they are 10 they can scramble their own egg. Demonstrate how to look both ways before crossing the street and have them show you how to do it, over and over again, until one day they can do it themselves (around age 12). If you have an older kid, and you feel like you haven’t been getting them to do things for themselves up until now, don’t despair! It’s never too late to start. Next time they ask for a snack, encourage them to make it themselves. One step at a time.
Re-Evaluate: Whether you give your kids more responsibilities or decide they’re not ready, it’s important to keep re-evaluating what they can and can’t do. By the time they are pre-teens they should be able to be responsible for tidying their room, doing most of their homework on their own and even sometimes packing their own snacks or bags. You can give them small errands to run, like going to the corner shop (if there’s one at walking distance in your neighborhood), calling a restaurant to order food for the family, or going up to the cash register to pay at a store.
It can be daunting to let our kids go out on their own, or go on an overnight trip or stay over at a friend’s house for the first time, but every risk we take is accompanied with a reward. The reward is their personal growth, confidence that they can do hard things and important life experiences. Instead of over-protecting them at every turn and doing everything for them, we can take small or calculated risks that allow them some freedom to grow up.
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