Nearly all parents agree that we want to raise our children to become independent and self-reliant people. When they are babies, children rely on us for their basic needs and mobility. As they grow, they rely less directly on us for these basic needs but still need us for love, protection, direction and help. As they grow into adolescence and early adulthood, they will rely on us less and less, separating from us to prepare for the transition to adulthood.
Even though much of the separation dance plays out during adolescence, how we offer our kids both support and independence in their early years paves the way for them to develop self reliance later on. Many well-intending parents may become too involved, protective or demanding of their children and, by doing so, actually foster dependence in them. In turn, their kids grow to rely on others for motivation, happiness and direction, unable to make sound decisions for themselves.
Independent children, however, possess the belief that they are competent and capable of taking care of themselves. They were given the freedom to experience life and learn its many important lessons, both the joyful and the not-so-fun ones that come from taking risks and doing things for and by oneself.
Why does it matter?
Independent children emerge as intrinsically motivated, natural explorers. They are capable decision makers who have had practice weighing various options and, with the support and guidance of their parents, have been allowed to and lived by their own decisions. This kind of self reliance helps children navigate all realms of life. Academically, they advocate for themselves, take chances and try new things. Socially, they are less dependent on others for happiness, making them far more likely to weather the ups and downs of young friendships and social power dynamics. They have likely had the chance to identify and pursue their own interests and, therefore, have a rich sense of self. They are also more likely to make sound judgements and far less susceptible to engage in negative behaviors, succumb to peer pressure or become either bully or victim.
As children grow into adulthood, these same patterns continue to play out. Self-reliant adults have an easier time feeling happiness, self-respect and the respect of others. They are better decision-makers and often accomplish more given the self confidence and self awareness that comes from having been allowed to try, succeed, fail and learn along the way.
“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance