Helping your child to be independent

It's always hard for parents to 'let go' of their children, but is there a 'right' age when kids should be allowed to do things independently?

 
 
 
  • Two children cooking
    Lisa Salmon
    By   | Journalist
    Last updated: 19 August 2013, 17:25 BST

    Judging when children are old enough to do things on their own is often a tough call for parents. They worry about what could happen to their youngsters if they let them do something independently, be that walking to school, making a cup of tea or simply staying home alone.

    All too often, modern parents err on the side of caution and supervise kids who, in reality, are more than capable of acting responsibly on their own.

    Now, a new survey suggests that more than half (54%) of British parents consider their child to be 'independent' at the age of 12. The study of 1,355 parents, by the discount website MyVoucherCodes, asked what the main things were that parents would let their kids do on their own after the age of 12 that they wouldn't let them do before.

    The top five answers were:

    • Stay at home alone - 58%

    • Look after younger siblings - 53%

    • Cook - 45%

    • Walk/get to school - 36%

    • Go to the shop - 29%

    So how do you allow your child some independence? We've got five expert tips to help you let go.

     
     
     

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  • Young girl doing the dusting
    Lisa Salmon
    By   | Journalist
    Last updated: 19 August 2013, 17:25 BST

    Cathy Ranson, Netmums editor-in-chief, stresses there's no appropriate age for children to do things independently, as every child is different.

    "Parents are in the best place to decide what's right for them and their child and when they feel ready for a little more independence.

    "Children enjoy the independence and the trust you show in them as they start to do things for the first time, such as walk to school, make a slice of toast or a meal or run an errand.”

    However, it’s never too young to get your child involved in making their own decisions. You could give toddlers, for example, a choice of snacks.

    It’s also good practice to let them have time when they play alone – set them up with some toys in the lounge, while you go into the kitchen to prepare dinner. Just make sure you tell your toddler that you are going and will be back shortly.

    With slightly older children, you can make sure they know their name and their address or even give them some simple chores like dusting or setting the table. The may not do it to your standard but they will love the chance to help!

    All these little things might not seem much, but they do help foster independence.

     
     
     

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  • Girl babysitting younger brother
    Lisa Salmon
    By   | Journalist
    Last updated: 19 August 2013, 17:25 BST

    Agony aunt and parenting expert Suzie Hayman says "I don't think a 12-year-old should be babysitting a younger child.

    "It depends what relationship siblings have, but as well as that it's important for children to know that they are children and they're not expected to be your substitute.

    "Maybe 14 or 15 is a better age for them to babysit - an age when you can discuss what the dangers are and they know what to do if there's a problem."

    Hayman, a trustee of the family charity Family Lives, says leaving a child on their own after school for a few hours, for example, but not looking after a sibling, is probably fine at a younger age - perhaps 11 or 12.

    "Generally, I think 12 is actually a bit late to let them do some things independently, but it really depends on what you mean by independent, and what sort of things you're letting them do.

    "For instance, depending on the environment of course, I think walking to school alone is something you should let them do in primary school.

    "It's really about children being able to recognise what they should do if something awful happens."

     
     
     

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  • Two children walking to school
    Lisa Salmon
    By   | Journalist
    Last updated: 19 August 2013, 17:25 BST

    Netmums editor-in-chief Ranson suggests it's a good idea to try to get a friend to accompany a child the first time they run an errand or walk to school without an adult, pointing out: "It's lovely for your child to share the experience, and it'll set your mind at rest that they're not alone."

    With new tasks, such as going out alone, start small and build up gradually. For example, for the first few days or weeks, you could both walk to school, but let your child go ahead of you. Get them to work out the way you need to go, which will ensure they don't get lost when they do it alone!

    You could also send them on smaller, local trips on their own – such as posting a letter at the end of the road, or nipping to the corner shop to buy some milk.

     

     
     
     

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  • Son and mum chatting on the bed
    Lisa Salmon
    By   | Journalist
    Last updated: 19 August 2013, 17:25 BST

    Hayman suggests parents should repeatedly ask children what they would do if particular things happen, as this coaches them to think independently, take charge and come up with solutions.

    The key to letting children have more independence is, she says, the maturity of the child and their willingness to seek help if necessary, not trying to cope themselves or cover things up.

    Ultimately, Hayman says parents need to start taking risks. "We need to make proper risk assessments, but we need to take risks too.

    "Obviously you need to make sure children are safe in traffic, will follow instructions etc. But how else are they going to learn if you don't let them do things on their own?"

     
     
     

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  • Girl watching television with her back to the camera
    Lisa Salmon
    By   | Journalist
    Last updated: 19 August 2013, 17:25 BST

    Hayman points out that while there are stories in the media about children being injured or killed while out and about alone, such stories only get publicity because they're so rare.

    "There are far more instances of children being harmed in the home, and I can cite infinitely more cases of children growing up obese, with social problems and so on, because they've been kept in.

    "We're bringing up a whole generation of children who are physically and emotionally stunted because they're not allowed to go out on their own and learn things."

    She says parents should think of an age they feel it's appropriate for their child to do something independently, and suggests that around two years younger is actually the correct age to let them do it.

    "We've become a society in which we baby our children far longer – we don't let them go out to play, and yet we give them free access to television and the internet and let them have mobile phones, probably because a lot of parents don't realise what's going on with them.

    "But with the things parents do actually have anxieties about, they're probably holding children on the leash far too long."

    She adds: "It's quite hard for parents to accept that gradually they have to hand over the reins for children to look after themselves, and that's an important part of being a parent.”

     
     
     

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