A child's wealth of experience grows most through experiences they have made themselves. Image Credit: Shutterstock

It may be going against everything your instincts are saying, but you’ve got to let your child be; scrape the knees, make the wrong choice, discover what the right ones are. That is after all how independence is grown.

Dr Daniela Graf, Specialist Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at UAE-based American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology, explains the characteristics of an independent child as:

  • The self-confidence to act independently,
  • To critically evaluate one's own decisions,
  • To make corrections without external help,
  • The motivation to develop own problem-solving strategies, and
  • The drive to learn from their own mistakes.

Try, fail, rise and repeat

While it’s the dream of most parents that these skills present themselves in adulthood, they are abilities that need to be introduced and honed over the early years. The only way to do that, say experts, is to allow them to practice autonomy. “How do we raise independent kids? We do it by allowing the kids to practise independence. And how do we do that? Step by step, according to age appropriateness,” explains Luz Maria Villagras S., a UAE-based Conscious Parenting Coach, Hypnosis Therapist and Neuro-Linguistic Programming Practitioner.

It can start as early as toddlerhood. Maria Villagras S. explains: “As toddlers, they can start choosing their clothes and shoes, where they want to go – park or mall – and even what extra-curricular activities they’d like to engage in. All this within reason, of course.”

If one is not self-aware and recognising the child for his or her own person, they may end up relegating the person’s choices – and without meaning to, hampering their decision-making skills. “At times, parents, because we are protective and we want what is best or what we think is best for them, we tend to make decisions on their behalf. And sometimes, this could become very radical, into what we call helicopter parenting – where we don’t allow them to make decisions so children don’t learn how to be independent,” says Maria Villagras S.,

The need to express oneself really gathers steam in the teenage years. “Based on my clinical experience as a child psychiatrist, I can say that the number one desire of every teenager is to be given more freedom by parents to make independent decisions. A child's wealth of experience grows most through experiences they have made themselves. Even if the honorable and caring wish of many parents is to protect their child from harm, the child grows most through these mistakes they have made themselves,” says Dr Graf.

Quick tips on raising an independent child
1. Allow them to make choices right from the time they are toddlers.
2. If they can do something, let them do it. If they fail, support them.
3. Ditch the ‘I told you so’ reaction to a setback; ask instead, ‘How can I help?’
4. Don’t constantly say, ‘You won’t be able to do this or that’.
5. Teach them about autonomy – of mind and body.

What not to do

The worst thing a parent can do, believes Dr Graf, is patronise a child. “Constantly tell a child that they cannot cope with challenges on their own and that they are dependent on parental help because they don’t have the necessary wealth of experience. Nothing disturbs the autonomy development of a child more than when they are constantly patronised.”

What is body autonomy?
Wondering what harm a forced hug or kiss can do? A lot, it turns out – it’s the little things that can whittle away a person’s sense of control over their own bodies. Arfa Banu Khan, Clinical Psychologist, Aster Jubilee Medical Complex, Bur Dubai, explains: “Body autonomy is defined as power and agency a person has over their body and future, without violence or coercion. In other words, all people - including children – have the right to live free from physical acts, such as touch to which they do not consent.”
Nadia Güzel, German expat and mum to twins, follows this rule with her children. “When family, including my parents say, ‘Give me a hug’, I say, ‘Don’t ask please. They will hug you when they are ready’,” she says.

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