Inspired Ideas
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Inspired Ideas

Why Now is the Best Time to Promote Ownership, Autonomy, and Independence in Children

By Kerrie LaRosa, Clinical Social Worker and Parent Coach

This blog was edited in December 2021 for relevance in a changing post-COVID environment.

How many times have you heard your child say any or all of the following this week:

“I need your help.”

“I don’t know what to do.”

“I am so bored.”

“I’m hungry.”

“Can you get me (fill in the blank)?”

During the time of COVID quarantines, homeschooling, and telework, there were a lot of questions about how to manage so much time at home. Families were worried about their physical health, their financial security, how to maintain employment, and keeping up with the ever-changing COVID-19 situation. Now, for many families, that transition to at-home work has become a “new normal”. Additionally, it’s becoming clear that a transition to homeschooling may happen again at a smaller scale — snow days other interruptions to learning may not look the same as they did a few years ago, now that learning environments have become more flexible. School environments are changing, and children (and parents!) will have to adapt along with them.

Prioritize Connections

No matter the interruption to school, work, and routines that you’re facing, first stop to breathe, take care of yourself, family and loved ones. We can help manage stress by focusing on connecting with the people we love and prioritizing the most essential tasks.

Priorities are personal and may vary moment to moment. One day your priority might be pausing your work to check on a grandparent, sleeping in an extra couple minutes to boost your immune system, taking a break to go outside when there is a break in the rain, or letting your children watch a movie while you get on an important Zoom call. In a culture that admires being busy, give yourself permission to slow down. It is not possible to do it all.

We cannot be employee of the month, parent of the year, cleaner, dog walker, house manager, therapist, entertainer, screen police, and task master all while maintaining our emotional health and well-being.

But there are some things we can do. We can slow down, be realistic about our expectations, and continue to stretch our ideas about how, when and where learning happens.

“Hidden” Learning Activities

Learning outside the school walls has always been occurring, but we can’t see it happen if we don’t look for it.

Right now is the perfect time for children to:

  • Develop gross motor skills while playing hop-scotch
  • Learn math while baking
  • Explore science while checking out their shadow
  • Practice social and emotional skills through play with siblings and friends
  • Develop problem-solving skills while playing games, attempting puzzles, and building with blocks.
  • Then there are the life skills children need to learn to be successful that can’t be measured in the classroom: Cooking, cleaning, independent study, self-motivation, persistence, time management, and problem-solving, among others. A child’s time and learning is so structured and micromanaged that it is difficult for them to learn these skills and develop independence.

How to Promote Independence and Autonomy

During COVID quarantines, we have been forced to slow down in many ways. When activities and schools were canceled, children had more time to help out with chores. We have the opportunity to make choices that promote a slower pace and an increase in children’s participation in household tasks. Children have been spending fewer hours on household chores since the 1980’s in spite of the positive impact chores have on child development and the family relationships. Children are more than capable at a very young age. They can help clean up after themselves, take out the trash, sweep the floor and help with laundry. These activities help develop important independent life skills and teach responsibility while shortening the parents’ to-do list.

Choose age-appropriate tasks that your child might enjoy. Keep the tasks short and simple to do. They may grumble initially, but if you choose age-appropriate tasks, give them choices, and appreciate the imperfect results of their work, they will gain confidence, learn responsibility, and it will ultimately bring you closer.

Children can develop problem-solving skills and autonomy by:

  • Searching for their own pen
  • Organizing their own school supplies
  • Figuring out how to combat boredom
  • Helping themselves to their own snacks and water
  • Making their own lunch
  • Remembering their homework

Children are more capable than we give them credit for. When we do for them what they can do for themselves, we increase our load and risk inadvertently teaching them that they are not capable.

Encouraging Ownership of Schoolwork

Another way to lighten the parental load and encourage children’s autonomy is with schoolwork. Rather than micromanaging their daily schoolwork and fielding academic questions, use this time as an opportunity for children to take ownership of their learning.

Children learn better when they can exercise choice and follow their interests. Starting with your child’s strengths and interests rather than forcing what you think they should be learning will help them develop into independent learners. Instead of hovering over them and micromanaging their work, ask if they want help. If they insist on doing it on their own, let them. Remember that the point of schoolwork is to learn, not to necessarily get all the answers right. And if we do it for them, are they really learning?

Focus on what your child is already doing independently. If your child loves to read, have them set up a reading spot. If your child enjoys math, offer them options of math games and printed worksheets. If your child only loves video games, encourage them to write a paper, create a PowerPoint, or read about their favorite game.

Empower them with choices, encourage them to follow their passions, and hopefully they will experience the freedom of learning naturally, gain autonomy, and necessitate less micromanaging.

Conclusion

Before COVID, academic pressures existed. This pressure has intensified with the added concerns about COVID and the worry about learning loss. But, instead of focusing on what children may have “lost”, we can focus on what they have gained — new skills that they may not have learned pre-COVID and opportunities to learn, develop and grow in a more flexible learning environment. As we navigate this new world, if we can focus on connecting with others, prioritizing our needs, shift how we think about learning, we will promote more independence and autonomy in our children.

Kerrie LaRosa is a parent coach, clinical social worker, and mother helping parents connect with their children, enhance their relationships and improve their parenting skills. You can connect with Kerrie at www.larosaparentcoach.com and facebook.com/LaRosaParentCoach.

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