Experts reveal how to find ways to let your child become more independent
A study of 1,300 parents of six to 16-year-olds found 59 per cent have struggled to give their child more freedom, due to worries about their health and safety and whether they are too young.
Others are concerned about letting them go over fears they won’t make sensible choices (39 per cent), they’ll grow up too quickly (34 per cent) or that their health, nutrition and wellbeing will suffer (28 per cent).
But parenting expert Olivia Edwards claims it’s important for parents to recognise that their role is to support and guide their child to help them navigate life successfully – and that they won’t always be there to tackle challenges for them.
And giving children independence can help them to adapt and build their resilience through personal experience.
To help parents adjust, she advises starting small to not only get your child used to doing something for themselves but also making it easier to start letting go of some elements of control, such as asking them to lay the table or wash the vegetables before moving on to preparing meals.
Role modelling can also help children learn while also reassuring parents that they are ready to do something alone, whether that’s making omething to eat without help or walking to school alone.
The advice comes after a study, commissioned by vitamin supplement company Vitabiotics Wellkid, found parents believe kids should be able to play in the garden unsupervised from the age of eight, and pick out their own snacks once they turn 10.
The parents also considered children to be old enough to pack their own lunch box from 11, use the internet unsupervised after turning 12 and have a social media account from 13.
Parents found some of the hardest decisions for giving independence to children aged six to 11 to be letting them go out with friends unsupervised (41 per cent), when they can walk to school with friends (36 per cent) and having access to electronic devices and the internet (36 per cent).
And for older children aged 12-16, letting the child stay home while the parents were out (38 per cent) and letting them have a social media account (37 per cent) were the most difficult.
Oliva Edwards, from www.thepositiveparentcoach.co.uk, said: "Getting the balance right between wanting to protect your child as well as preparing them for the world can be hard.
“We all want our children to grow up to be confident, independent and resilient adults and this starts in childhood by giving them opportunities to learn, make good decisions as well as make mistakes, and to grow. But it’s a lot easier said than done.
“Allowing children to do things for themselves can make parents feel they aren’t needed anymore and reminds them how much their child has grown and how quickly time is passing by.
“It can be helpful for parents to reframe this as what a great job they are doing in fostering important life skills in their children and knowing that their child can always come back to them for help if they need it.”
The study also found 53 per cent weren’t prepared for the emotional wrench of giving their children more independence.
And while 30 per cent want their child to be independent when it comes to their food and diet, 54 per cent worry about the health and nutritional impacts.
Despite this, almost every parent polled (99 per cent), via OnePoll, think it’s important to give their child more independence, with 63 per cent believing it helps them develop their decision-making skills.
More than half (55 per cent) think it helps with their social development and interpersonal skills while the same percentage also think it allows them to discover who they are.
A spokesperson for Vitabiotics Wellkid, which commissioned the research, said: “Parents always want the best for their youngster, but part of this is knowing when to start to let them go. Although we know this is not easy.
“Some areas are easier to give independence than others, but when it comes to something as important as health and nutrition, it can be difficult to sit back and let your child make their own mistakes.
“Educating your child on the importance of a good, balanced, nutrient rich diet is a great starting point, as well as getting them into some good habits early on.
Olivia Edwards’ advice for parents to ‘let it go’
Role model to your child how to complete tasks by doing them in front of1 them, whether it’s preparing a meal, using public transport or walking from home to school, or doing things around the house such as the dishes.
Provide opportunities for your child to get involved by pausing and waiting to see how they respond, before jumping in to help them – giving them the opportunity to try things and learn, and you the chance to see what they do.
Starting small by giving your child less to do or breaking tasks down into chunks makes them more approachable and manageable meaning your child is more likely to attempt and complete it. It might be easier for you to start letting go of some elements of control as well if you can take smaller steps towards them not needing you to do things. For example, asking them to lay the table or wash the vegetables before moving on to preparing foods or even cooking a whole meal.
Talk openly to your children about what a balanced diet looks like and the importance of eating in moderation and role model this to them so that they understand what their body needs to function. You could talk about which foods contain which vitamins and nutrients and why the body needs those to be healthy.
Help to give your child some independence around mealtimes by letting them choose what meals they might want to eat across the week. You could take them to the shop with you to buy the ingredients, prepare and cook some of the meal together and serve it to the family.
Help to prepare them for real life scenarios by using examples in a playful way. You could create your own tuck shop where each sweet has a different value and they can fill their own pick and mix cup using the money they have, and also to identify which are the healthy and not so healthy choices in that selection, and what good alternatives might be.
Allow your child to make their own mistakes and support them in learning how to approach things differently next time. This might involve comforting them when they are sad and resisting the temptation to say ‘I told you so’ or to offer your own advice if it isn’t asked for.
When it comes to activities that involve being in the house by themselves, walking to or from school alone and going into town or the park with friends and no adults, talk to them about doing this in advance. For example, what could they do if they got lost or felt scared? Giving them a plan helps you both to feel that they are prepared should they need to adapt to a situation. You can practice the tasks together and start off small by perhaps going to town with them, then they go off for an hour to meet their friends and then meet up with you to go home.
If your child wants to spend time with other people, whether that’s playing with friends at the park, or having a sleepover, in addition to helping them prepare for the event I would also ensure that as the parent you understand who is going to be there and feel comfortable and informed enough about their level of responsibility, maturity and how they might act in certain situations.
Ages that children should be able to do something – according to UK parents
- Play in the garden by themselves – Eight years and one month
- Get pocket money – Nine years and four months
- Have a sleepover with friends – 10 years and one month
- Decide on their own snacks – 10 years and two months
- Make their own breakfast – 10 years and four months
- Pack their own school lunch – 11 years and four months
- Have a mobile phone – 11 years and five months
- Walk to/from school alone – 11 years and five months
- Go to the park with friends – 11 years and eight months
- Set their own homework schedule – 11 years and 11 months
- Use the internet unsupervised – 12 years and one month
- Go out with friends unsupervised – 12 years and two months
- Go swimming without an adult present – 12 years and seven months
- Have a social media account – 13 years and one month
- Start earning their own money via a paper round, babysitting etc –13 years and one month
- Stay home in the evening without a babysitter – 13 years and twomonths
- Choose their own bedtime – 13 years and four months
- Go to a city/town centre alone – 13 years and four months