How to foster childhood independence in your kids

childhood independence

This guide outlines ways to boost childhood independence and help your kid towards becoming a strong little person.

Even though the term “helicopter parenting” was coined more than 30 years ago, we still witness the phenomenon today. You can see moms and dads at the park, hovering over their child’s every move. There’s no question that parents want to protect their children from harm. However, don’t try to swaddle yours in bubble wrap for too long and neglect developing childhood independence. You might end up perplexed why they didn’t become independent young adults.

Ways to develop childhood independence

It will always be a tricky balance between letting go and holding on. The world is a more dangerous place today than even a few decades ago. Preschoolers are taught what to do in active shooter drills. Teenagers are more distracted today with social media notifications while driving. So there are valid reasons why parents are concerned. However, there are steps you can take to foster childhood independence in your children without putting them in danger.

1. Take Them Traveling

Exploring new countries, cuisines, and climates can be a wonderful way to bond as a family. Encourage childhood independence by getting kids their own carry-on luggage and packing cubes so they can be responsible for their belongings. Assign age-appropriate tasks for them to get ready for the trip.

Once you arrive, the children may want to go out while you would rather nap. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing scenario. Kids love exploring new places, but obviously young ones cannot venture out on their own. Increase their sense of independence by letting them explore the resort with a responsible older sibling or cousin. Give them a kids GPS watch so you can track their location whenever needed. This way they can have some independent fun, and you don’t have to worry all the time.

2. Involve Them in Food Prep

Meal plan for the week with your kids. Have them come up with meal ideas, write the grocery list, then take them with you to the store. Let them pick produce and snacks of their choice. They will learn about different varieties and how to make choices, which fosters childhood independence.

Children who help with meals are less likely to be picky eaters. Get kid-safe knives for them to help chop and slice. Encourage them to mix, mash, whisk, and then wash up after themselves.

Let your children order for themselves at restaurants. Not only will they learn to add please and thank you, they will also feel more grown up. They can choose something from the kids menu and answer the server’s questions about sides and drinks. Sure it may take a tad longer, but it is definitely worth doing. Since they got to play an active role in deciding what to eat, they might also end up finishing it.

3. Give Them an Allowance

There is often a debate about whether kids should get paid for chores or not. Regardless of which side of the fence you are on, an allowance has many benefits for childhood independence. Whether your kids earn the allowance for performing household tasks or not is up to you.

The allowance amount does not have to be a large sum to teach big lessons about independence and financial management. The next time your child wants to buy yet another Pokemon card while you’re grocery shopping, tell them to buy it with their allowance.

Let them figure out whether they can afford the item. They may also need to have a little extra money for the tax calculated at checkout. Don’t be tempted to jump in and say whether or not they have enough. Let them do the math and learn the lesson on their own.

4. Put Them in Charge of Clothing

Whether your child is picky about what they wear to school or not, let them buy their own clothes. Give them a budget and help them navigate the aisles, but for childhood independence let the choices be theirs. Allow them to play around with patterns and fabrics and come up with their own unique style. Keep an open mind — you might actually like it.

Encourage your kids to check the weather each morning. They should be responsible for knowing whether the forecast contains rain or snow — and for dressing accordingly.

Every weekend, have them plan out clothes for the entire week. This makes mornings less hurried and stressful. It also helps as they grow older and start doing their own laundry. They will know when they need to quickly run a load or two rather than face a day with no clean pants.

5. Let Them Know They’re Responsible for Schoolwork

Even if you’ve had a stressful day, try not to just give your child the answer to the homework problem. Explain how they can find the answer and help them with the steps. But insist they write the final essay or solve the math equation on their own.

As a parent, it’s not your job to provide all the tutoring. It’s OK if you don’t have the bandwidth to explain lowest common denominators way past bedtime. Encourage your child to ask their teacher for help the next day.

As they grow older, they will have multiple teachers assigning projects with varying deadlines. Help your child use a paper or digital calendar to manage these, but have them enter all the due dates themselves. This way they will develop childhood independence as they become accountable for how they juggle several assignments.


Teaching childhood independence takes time and patience. It is so much quicker for parents to do a task themselves. However, it is unfair to then one day magically expect teenagers to do dish duty if  parents never taught them how.

So fostering independence might take a little extra time — and a few clenched teeth — now. But unless you want to be doing your 29-year old’s laundry and waking them up for work every morning, it’s a worthwhile investment. Make it fun when they’re little, and it will not seem like a chore. You are teaching them valuable life lessons. They might not show it now, but they will appreciate it in the future.

Photo by Artem Podrez

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