How to Raise Independent Kids (and make your own life easier!)

People often ask me how I get my two teen boys to do all of the things they do.

 Did I raise them to be independent, or are they just naturally helpful and well behaved? Oh, double heck no to that second question. Boy did it take work! But it was absolutely worth it, and the best place to get parenting ideas is from other parents, so here you go.

First, let me preface by saying in the midst of all the things I have taught my kids and made them responsible for, I have also been there for everything. First words, first steps, tucking them in at night and reading them stories. We have gone to parks, cultural events, had family game nights, family dinners - in essence, we have spent a ton of time together, so they are not lacking for my attention. I just made a promise to myself to get them to be independent so that I wouldn't freak out when it came time for them to head off to college.

Here's My Recipe for Independent Kids:

1) Teach them! 

Simple responsibilities and life lessons began when the boys were little. By the time the oldest was 5, I was sleep deprived and desperate. I came up with idea to equip my boy to "make" his own breakfast. Each night, he chose a healthy cereal, and I would put it in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap and place it on his part of the breakfast table with a spoon and a napkin. Then, I would get a small cup and fill it with milk (just enough for cereal), and put it at a reachable level in the fridge. In the mornings, my son would come down, get the milk out, pour it into the cereal, switch on his favorite show, and voila! I had bought myself an extra hour of sleep, and my kid thought he was a pretty big deal making breakfast for himself, and bragged to everyone. We built on it each year, adding in more responsibilities but setting limits (do not use the toaster without Mom present, do not climb for anything, etc).

2) Let them fail (with a built in safety net).  

There were times, such as with breakfast, when my son would spill the milk on the way to the table, or knock over his cereal bowl. These things are not a big deal. He would come wake me, I would explain how to clean it up, and I'd get him more cereal. Yes, when they are younger, you do basically have to go back after them and re-do or re-clean everything, but in the meantime, they are learning, and the mishaps become fewer and further apart. Show your kids how to do all sorts of chores (safe chores), and let them go to it. Do not hover. If they make a mess, let them clean up. If they break something, see if they come to you to own up to it. My thought is, I would much rather my kids fail and recover at home with a safety net than when they are out on their own without a clue as to what to do.

3) Let them plan. 

As they've gotten older, my kids have calendars to organize their lives. I write on them, and they can easily see any commitments they have: chores, family events, doctor's appointments - basically things that cannot be missed. From there, it is up to them to plan their time. Homework, social time, responsibilities, projects...I let them plan their time instead of micro-managing them. It gives them a sense of freedom and it will serve them well in the future. Now that they are both teens, they also tell themselves when to go to sleep, must be responsible for getting up and out of the house on time for school, and complete chores in a timely manner. Just as if chores were a job duty, I give them a deadline. When they choose to do each chore is up to them, so long as the deadline is met.

4) House Rule: You are treated the age that you act. 

This is my back-up plan for everything. My kids are still kids, and part of learning and growing is pushing boundaries and being a bit self-centered. There are times when they don't "feel like" doing their chores, or slack on schoolwork, or complain about what they are expected to do. This is all ok and normal. I have very normal kids. No yelling is required. If they are behaving like dependent young children, that's how I treat them. I take away their privileges (all electronics are gone) and I tell them when to shower, when to go to bed, when to finish their homework...basically, I become a hovering, nagging mom. This is not fun for them. One day of it typically presses the reset button and the next day they are back to accepting all responsibilities and getting their freedom back with it.

5) Remember that they are kids. 

They are forever learning and growing, so expect all of the usual: mistakes, attitude, and missteps. No big deal. This is how they learn. In the short term, it may provide extra work for you, but in the long run, it is SO worth the effort.

So now I have two teenagers, who know how to do the following: Laundry, dishes, cooking a meal, folding clothes, general housework, how to search the internet to fix things, the importance of writing thank you notes...the list goes on and on (and I still try to cram as much real life knowledge into their heads as I can each day!).

In addition, since my older teen only has a year until he heads to college, we have added in: how to have and manage a bank account; how to make your own doctor appointment, how to fill the car with gas, how to go to the post office, how to shop for groceries...again, setting him up for success.

So what do you say? Empower those kids! Raise independent children! And by all means, please share your best tips with me!!

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