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Parenting Tips for Raising Self-Reliant Kids

Many parents understand the importance of always being there for their kids. But what about the flip side–learning to let go gracefully so kids can develop their own identity?

Julie Lythcott-Haims, a mother of two, former dean at Stanford University, and author of How to Raise an Adult, explains that parents can set their kids up for success by knowing when to step aside.

By Wendy Chou

Make “pitching in” an early habit

Kids age 4-7 often enjoy doing things for themselves and feeling helpful. Give them simple opportunities to contribute around the house by putting away toys, making a snack, and choosing clothes they’ll wear in the morning. (A side benefit: these things fall off your to-do list!) Practicing completing tasks now will prepare them well for more challenging expectations later in life.

Allow time for critical thinking

When a child talks about a problem she’s having, a normal parenting reaction is to quickly offer a solution. This might be efficient in the short run, but in the long-term the child won’t ever have the chance to problem-solve for herself. Also, allow kids moments to discuss current events or even a book or movie you just shared together to help them find their own voice.

Discover the pursuits that matter to your kids

Teach kids that hard work, grit, and dedication really pay off when it comes to excelling at sports, music, and other activities. But make sure you’re enabling their dreams, not yours. According to Lythcott-Haims, it’s best to offer lots of choices in activities, then step back and let kids lead with their own passions. Ask your kids what they love to do, and be supportive of those interests and hobbies.

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Seek growth, not perfection

Making a mistake is a fundamental life experience that can lead to growth. Lythcott-Haims lists several milestones that we shouldn’t shield a child from, including “being blamed for something he didn’t do”, “coming in last at something”, and “regretting saying something she can’t take back”. These kinds of mistakes can be very painful, but also represent opportunities to become more resilient.

As parents we all wish for our children’s ultimate success. Over-managing children, however, is probably counter-productive to this goal. The best definition of successful parenting, according to Lythcott-Haims, is when our children develop into individuals who can look out for themselves, without us needing to hold their hands.

Reference: Julie Lythcott-Haims, How to Raise an Adult

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