Teaching Your Child Independence: Let Them Learn the Hard Way

By Lindsey Johnson
Little redhead girl ding homework at desk

No parent wants to see their child fail. Our protective instincts sometimes urge us to help our children avoid mistakes and bail them out of difficult situations. However, mistakes and failure are part of life — nobody is exempt. When teaching your child independence, learning how to prevent and recover from mistakes is a much greater lesson than teaching them that a mistake makes them a failure.

At this age, children are gaining independence and learning to do many things on their own. While they are learning, they will inevitably make mistakes, but sometimes this can help them learn how to do it better next time.

What are some “safe” ways to let my child learn?

While we want to give our children the opportunity to fail to teach character, resilience and how to improve skills, we don’t want to put them in physical or emotional danger. We want them to learn how to screw up in a way that will not cause long-lasting or severe harm. So, how can we let our kids experience frustration safely?

Pack their own lunch.

Your responsibility as a parent is to have food available but children this age are able to pack their own lunches. They will have to learn how to pack enough food, how to pack filling and healthy choices and to remember to pack it and take it with them. This will also help teach your child independence.

Learning opportunity

If your child forgets their lunch, do not bail them out. Let them figure out what to do and take some snacks from friends or be a little hungry. They will not starve by missing one meal and if they face the consequences of being hungry, they will be less likely to forget again.

Complete school assignments.

If your child is doing well in school, now is a good time to take a step back. Let them test out managing their own assignments. This includes when to get them done (right after school, after dinner, before bed) as well as planning ahead for projects, studying for tests, completing daily homework assignments and more. In the background, monitor their grades and make sure they don’t take a nosedive, but don’t bail them out if they forget an assignment. Let them learn the consequences in a small, controlled way. If your child is currently struggling in school, find a small way to teach them to organize their work and get their daily assignments done on their own (but continue to provide support for tests and projects, as appropriate).

Learning opportunity

A few missed assignments or poor tests will help teach your child independence and how to better prepare while not greatly impacting their understanding of the material. If there are consequences with grades, this is better to happen before they get to high school, when their grades are sent to colleges.

Let them be in charge of coordinating needs.

Has your child ever told you at 9 p.m. that they needed a snack for a school party tomorrow? Or a poster that they have to make and submit in a matter of hours? We’ve all been there. What is a common default? We run out late at night (frazzled and tired, possibly in our pajamas) to bail them out. How far in advance did they know about this project or party? Parents are busy, too!

Learning opportunity

Teach your kids to alert you as soon as they know of an upcoming need so you can plan accordingly. If they tell you the night before, they are out of luck. They
will have to make do with what is available at home. This will teach them planning skills as well as creativity. After all, we all sometimes must make do with what’s on-hand and this is an important life skill too!

Finding small, safe but significant ways to let your child fail is important to their development. They will learn problem solving skills if they have to improvise. If they are embarrassed or receive bad grades or feedback, they will learn on a small scale that they don’t like that feeling and will work harder next time to do better. Talking through these experiences with them will show them that you care but they must learn responsibility.

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