Monday, October 16, 2006

Dealing with an Independent Child, Advice from a Mother

By Christina VanGinkel

In those first few weeks and months after baby's birth, the last thing on any parent's mind is probably the issue of independence. Your infant is so needy in his or her early days, requiring your help for everything. Then one day, you wake up and your baby is not so much of a baby anymore. They are reaching for things, taking tentative first steps, wanting to feed themselves, and before you know it, running around and talking like a miniature adult. You may suddenly wonder where this small person came from. Was it not only yesterday that you were trying to figure out which way to put on their diaper, and now they are hollering at you if you accidentally open the bathroom door when they are inside!

Naturally, each child, even those within the same home, will gain their independence in numerous ways, along various time schedules. Your one year old might not eat unless you feed him or her every bite, while your sister's one year old might clamp his or her moth shut if anyone attempts to feed them, insisting on picking up every single bite with their own fingers. When a friend asked me how I dealt with this issue with my own three children, all with very different temperaments from each other, I gave her the following advice, which I realized others might be able to grasp a bit of useful advice from too.

Dealing with an independent child at any stage of the game might not always be easy. You need to get a coat on your two year old, otherwise you are going to be late picking up your preschooler from class, or your one-year-old needs to finish their dinner so you can put her down to bed and get to a big project you need to finish for work the next day. On the other hand, the issue at hand might even be much more serious, such as their safety. This can occur when a child thinks they are old enough to do something that you feel might put them at risk. Crossing a road alone, walking home alone, and even using a steak knife to cut their meat at dinner.

What can you do when these issues arise? I told my friend to try to deal with each one on an individual basis, from the first time they clamp their mouths shut, until they are teenagers finagling for a later curfew. Do not be so quick to say no or to do the opposite of what your child is expressing they want done, but do not get in the habit of giving in either. Dealing with an independent child is a balancing act of sorts. Yes, you want your child to grow into a responsible adult, and therefore you must allow their independence to grow. At the same time, you must be assertive when allowing them to be independent could cause them harm, and the greatest thing you must learn is to know the difference.

Keep in mind when you have allowed an outcome for a specific scenario, this does not mean you have to follow through the same way the next time the same scenario comes up. Why? Each scenario will never be identical; therefore, each time must be dealt with individually. She asked me what I meant when I got to this point, and the best way I could come up with to explain myself, was to tell her about the first time my son asked me if he could get a ride home from a friend who already had his driver's license.

The scenario itself was a bit off, when it came to independence in general, but I felt it was a good example of how a situation could be nearly identical, yet have two very different outcomes.

As to my son getting a ride home, he had missed the bus, and this friend offered him a ride. They had called to make sure that it was okay before he got into the car. I actually said yes, surprise, as I knew the boy, knew he had a spotless driving record six months after obtaining his license, was nice to his parents, and he was around our house enough that I just felt okay with the whole situation. He was a responsible teen. A few weeks later, my son's cousin, the same age, offered to pick up my son when he missed the bus home from school again. I said no, even though it was inconvenient for me to drop everything, go, and pick him up. Why? My son's cousin, of the same age as the first, had already been involved in two fender benders, one quite serious, was not reliable, and I had seen him become quite rude to his parents on more than one occasion. On a whole, he was respectful to me when in my house, yet I could not bring myself to trust him with my child in his vehicle. Almost same scenario, yet two different outcomes on my decision-making.

Allowing our children to be independent can be similar to an ongoing course in tough decision-making. No one ever said it was going to be easy, it can even be downright difficult. Raising an independent child can be hard, wonderful, heart wrenching, and produce a state of pride all at the same time. As to getting a one year old to eat so you can get to that big project, I can almost guarantee you that it is just easier to let them eat at their own pace, work will just have to wait. For the coat, remember you are bigger than a two year old, and if all else fails, set the hood of the jacket on their head, and wrap the jacket the best you can around them, and strap them in their car seat so your preschooler is not left wondering where you are. Being a parent is wonderful!

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