Child Freedom and Independence

Jan 22, 2007

As discussed in the January 22 newsletter, parents often find it easier to do things or answer for their children than to sit back and allow the children to respond in their own way or time. This is a sticky situation as parents certainly want to help their kids, but can also prevent their children from handling things on their own.

One of the guiding principles of child-centered play therapy is that the child leads and makes his/her own decisions in the play room. This is good for the child in several ways. First, the child knows that they are loved, accepted and encouraged for who they are, whether they get everything right or not. Second, they learn to explore their feelings, abilities, and decision making skills when offered the chance to do so. Third, they feel in control and respected, which builds healthy self-esteem.

Unfortunately, parents often feel responsible for their child to have the right answers, to accomplish activities in the correct way, to maintain a certain image to others. This can lead to the parent taking over in conversations, tasks, and even simple responsibilities (tying shoes, etc.)

The concern then becomes where does the child have the opportunity to work through some of those situations on his/her own? How does the child know when and how to ask for help? What negative message is the child potentially internalizing?

So, what are some practical ways to better show respect and love to children, while keeping authority and control? Here are a few suggestions:

  • If an adult is talking to your child, resist the urge to jump in and answer for him/her. Your child will answer the question as best they can. If they need to consult with you, they will ask you.
  • If your child is struggling with accomplishing a task (opening a jar, putting something together, tying a balloon, etc.), encourage them with affirming statements rather than doing it for them. “You are working really hard to do that” or “You are trying to figure that out”. If they truly cannot do it, again, they will ask for help.
    NOTE: If the child is used to you doing things for them immediately, they may not even want to try. Allow them to ask a few times for your help before you do take over, allowing them to attempt it first.
  • Make it a priority to provide opportunities for your kids to try new things or answer questions at home with you, which is a safe environment. As a result, they will have practice trying things, and be more willing to attempt it with others.

Once you have begun to allow your child to have more freedom and independence in conversations and activities, make sure to encourage their attempts. This reinforces the idea that you love them for who they are, no matter the outcome of anything they try. Some great encouraging statements are “You did it!” or “You knew the answer to that!” (if they are successful). If they fail, but tried “You gave that your best!” or “You knew to ask for help!”.

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