We all want our kids to grow up to be as independent as possible, right? As the mother of two boys, who are now somehow almost 18 and just turned 13, I know it is on my mind quite a lot. Did you know that the independence our kids show as older kids and teens starts when they're babies? Even in the womb? And the foundation of independence is actually dependence and interdependence? Let me explain.
As I'm sure you probably already know, young children need a strong connection and lots of time and energy on the part of their parents. It is appropriate developmentally for young children to be fully dependent, even if our culture suggests otherwise.
To take it a step further, the relationship between parent and child is really inter-dependent because it is a relationship with rich communication between both parents and child, beginning even before birth. Spending the time to be present in all ways (not perfectly or every minute, but being "present enough") and care for them is truly an investment in their social, emotional, and future mental health. All children need to have a strong bond with at least one adult. We know this connection makes all the difference. Children need to be seen, heard, and felt, as Ray Castellino states about babies. It's really what we all need.
What happened in their early years becomes especially important as children reach the pre-teen and teen years. This is the time when children still need to be connected, still need to have parents who are invested in them, but are ready for more independence in a series of forward and backward steps. They're still very much inter-dependent, just in new ways.
|Photo credit: Laurel Perry,
But this is the part that can be really tricky for us as parents. How much is too much decision-making for these older, yet still young, kids? How much isn't enough? What about sleep and technology? What about their education? Helping around the house? Their relationships with their friends? How do we foster inter-dependence here? They're not the only one in the family, so it can't just be whatever they want to do and disregarding everyone else's needs.
The answer comes out of our relationship, of how well we know our kids and the strength of our bond, as we head into adolescence together. We are the ones who know our children and can encourage them as we see they are ready for another step without pushing too much (our agenda). When we can really see who they are and where they are, putting our own ideas aside, we can guide them to take the steps they're ready to take.
Here's a personal story from my own family, including a picture taken from that same day.
When my youngest was 8, we moved to a new condo complex. There were many buildings and lots of places to get lost, so for a little while, he wouldn't venture out on his own past the hallway in front of our apartment. I respected that we had just moved and also that he is my kid who tends to be directionally challenged anyway, so I watched and waited, encouraged and connected. We talked about how to get different places each time we went out together (scaffolding- giving him a structure upon which to learn) and I let him know that he would know when he was ready and knew where to go.
One evening, I was down at sunset inside the complex with some friends and he called me from the apartment phone to say that he was going to walk down by himself. About 5 minutes later, he was there, full of pride at what he had accomplished. We took this picture as he paused and took in the sunset after his walk down on his own. He was 9 by this time and he was ready for this step in his independence.
But pay attention to something here. Just like when toddlers are exploring a new environment, they need to go out into the world and then come back to check in with us again. They move away, then move closer together to connect. The same happens as our kids grow. We're still their touch-point, their secure base, ideally. My son explored on his own and connected back in with me when he reached his destination.
|Photo Credit: Tra Hitt http://trapixweb.com|
Learning how to support your children toward independence is a dance of moving away and coming back together, much like when they first learned to walk. Sometimes it is difficult or scary to watch them move away with the potential for getting hurt (whether it is with friendships, the possibility of getting physically hurt or emotionally hurt, or making mistakes that might have long term consequences). We want to protect our kids AND we need to help them learn to trust themselves, and to protect themselves, at age appropriate and developmentally appropriate times.
Many parents have been asking for more support in parenting with attachment in mind with their older kids, so I am setting up some online virtual parenting support classes for parents with children between the ages of 9 and 19 (ish) who want some support in finding their way with their kids.
Class sizes are limited to 8 families AND I'm doing something a little different with registration for this class based on your feedback. You get to "pay-what-you-can," starting as low as $10/class!
|Tell Me More about the Tweens and Teens Classes!|
P.S. If you're an Academy member, these courses are included in your membership. No need to sign up. You'll be receiving an email invitation in your monthly newsletter.
P.S.S. More classes are coming for parents of toddlers and preschoolers, and early elementary-aged, too. Watch your email for more information and dates soon