Independence That is Still Dependent
I came upon this article on a friend’s Facebook page, http://faithit.com/stop-doing-8-things-teen-school-year-amy-carney/, and I found myself very much agreeing with the sentiment. And while I don’t have teenagers, it started me thinking about what I’m doing now to promote independence in my own children (in age appropriate ways). I realized I’m doing more than I thought!
Laundry. Mine just turned seven, and both of them have been responsible for folding and putting away their own laundry for several months now. I just started teaching them how to run the washer and dryer in the past couple of weeks, and while they aren’t quite tall enough to push all the buttons by themselves yet, it is their responsibility to load the washer and come get me to help with the details when their laundry bins are full. I’m happy to put in the extra time to scaffold* this life skill now to both save me time later AND make sure my kids can do their own laundry when they go off to college (or whatever)!
Restaurants. Mine are also expected to order their own food in restaurants. I have a vivid memory of being almost paralyzed as a kid when a waiter would ask me what I wanted. I want something different for them. And now they can read, I just hand them a menu as I would anyone else and let them make their own decisions (although I do discuss the items with them, in particular what options are healthy—again, scaffolding is important). I’ve surprised more than one waiter who came and asked me what the kids wanted only to hear me say, “I’m not sure. You’ll have to ask them.”
Medical appointments. The ability to advocate for oneself at the doctor’s office (or hospital, etc.) is incredibly important. All too often even adults are afraid to question anything a doctor says, yet our bodies are pretty much all we really have control over in this life—and the consequences for medical decisions can’t be shared. Obviously the kids are too young at this age to understand complex medical issues, but what I can do is help them feel more comfortable and confident in that situation. So when they have a doctor’s appointment, they have to check themselves in. (I stand nearby in case there’s an issue, but they wait in line by themselves.) When we’re in the doctor’s office I am, of course, with them. But I encourage them to ask their own questions, no matter how silly it may sound (did I ever tell you about how my son wanted to explain to his pediatrician how his headaches were because he was part elf?). And if a medical professional were to discount them (we’ve had wonderful care to date), I would model how to politely and firmly stand up for the right to ask questions.
Homework. Did I mention they’re SEVEN??? I’m not a fan of homework for this age for a variety of reasons, so my take on it is, “If it makes you happy and it’s fun, then go for it.” I tried, for about a week, to push a reading/writing agenda. It ended with everyone in tears. Never again! But my hands are completely off of it. What I do, however, is make sure that reading is done often and with cuddles, and that when math comes up in our daily life we make it into a fun game. By associating reading and math, etc., with love and fun, my hope is to build the groundwork for people who love learning and will seek it out on their own.
Food prep. When the kids started 1st grade, we got them real knives. Like, the super-sharp kind, but designed for little kid hands (and used only under supervision, of course). The idea was now they were “big kids,” they could start helping make dinner. They are in charge of chopping veggies like cucumbers, peppers, carrots, broccoli, etc. We found that not only are they incredibly proud of being “chefs,” they also are more likely to eat a wider variety of food if they had a hand in preparing it (which is supported by this evidence).
So, this is a good start, but what will we do next? I’d say the next immediate step is to get the kids directly involved in preparing their own breakfast and lunch. I’m thinking of ways to scaffold that (such as putting out a limited variety of food on the table for them to choose from). Of course, the biggest problem with that is that I have to be organized enough to make it happen! But it also seems the investment of time now will be more than worth the return in a few years (as it is with so many things). I’ll have to think more on that and see what evolves that can promote my goals of Kid-Indepence and balance it with Parent-Sanity….
What about you? What are your thoughts and ideas on this? How are you promoting your child(ren)’s independence, and how are you scaffolding it to make it age-appropriate? Please share your ideas!
*A scaffold is a temporary framework that is put up for support and access to meaning and taken away as needed when the child secures control of success with a task. A construct that is critical for scaffoldinginstruction is Vygotsky's concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD).--Wikipedia.