By Nikki Lane
Helping our children develop independence as the school year starts sounds beautiful. I can see the flawless Instagram-worthy image in my head. All the children packing their own lunches, double-checking homework, perfectly combing their own hair, matching their outfits and neatly filing into the car. Here is the problem. That image is a lie. It’s a toxic, straight-out-of-a-1950s-sitcom lie. Building independent life skills is messy and takes time. It’s hard and different for everyone. But it is a worthy endeavor. Here are a few tips on how to survive the chaos that can ensue on the journey to independence.
Stretch Out Your Morning Routine
So many parenting gurus drive home the importance of creating a schedule and routine. We are schedule people. I create schedules for all the things, and I love it. Simply put, I’m a planner nerd. I truly believe that having a schedule helps to create a sense of security for everyone. It also helps children who are just beginning to understand the concept of time to stay on track and focus. But too often we create schedules that turn us into micro-managing task masters. How do we avoid this pitfall? Leave room in your schedule for the unexpected. Overestimate the amount of time it takes to do everything. And most importantly, include something relaxing for each person in your morning routine. Adding a time slot for reading a book, meditating, or having a few minutes to play outside goes a long way to creating peaceful and productive mornings.
Introducing options can seem downright counterproductive. Especially if you want to get to school on time. I’m not suggesting you create limitless options, but introducing just a few options gives your child access to start prioritizing their own needs and wants. That adds up to a big win on the journey to independence. It’s also a powerful tool to help grow confidence. One of the easiest places to start adding options is in the kitchen. If your child is packing their own lunch, have a few options in each food category for them. You could do the same with breakfast. In our house, my favorite place to introduce options is in that window of recreational time. Do you want to read or play outside for a bit? It’s awesome to have time in the morning to do something fun — but when you add in a couple of options, well, that is just full-on glorious.
Mom-to-Mom Tip: Some options are better left to the night before. For example, picking out your outfit for the day.
Self-Care is a Team Sport
Have you ever noticed the sheer volume mom memes on the internet bemoaning the perils of convincing children to find and put on shoes? The struggle is real. Getting dressed independently is a big step towards independence. There are so many gross motor skills required to effectively brush your teeth, comb your hair, wash your face, tie shoes, etc. We spend a lot of time working on developing motor skills to accomplish all of these tasks independently. But all that work is tedious for everyone. And once the skill is developed, the activities themselves are easy to put off until the last minute. I have found when we take a page out of Mary Poppins' book and turn these tasks into a game, we all have more success. We often have a race to see who can complete all the tasks first, which helps us complete these tasks early in our schedule.
There is No ‘I’ in ‘Independence’
Well, okay, there technically is an “I” in independence, but you see where I am going here, right? Independence grows when we serve others. It’s important to me that my children have a responsibility that doesn’t only impact them in the morning. It could be caring for a pet or a plant, setting the table, helping a sibling, making sandwiches. I know it can be hard to yield an important task to potential imperfection. But it matters that we trust our children with important stuff. We can cover our children in words of affirmation, encourage and praise them with words of support. That is a beautiful and powerful thing. But when we show them that we trust in them, when we allow them to contribute in real and tangible ways, it builds confidence in ways that words never could.
Failing is an Option
Failing is an important part of learning. There will be times when something will be missed in the mad dash to get to school on time. Sometimes it takes too long to accomplish a task. Random changes and new tasks will pop up and throw you completely off schedule. Learning to work through those challenges together is the greatest gift. There is joy and growth in every tangled shoelace. I cherish them all, and I also drink all the coffee.