NURTURING your Elementary Child’s INDEPENDENCE

Nurturing Independence: What kind of adult support does a modern child need?

Independence sometimes feels like a lofty but unobtainable goal for your children.

As a caregiver, you don’t need to be told by anyone that teaching your children life skills and daily activities is a difficult job. It seems when life is at its most hectic, you need your child to be more independent throughout your daily routine.

To make matters more complicated, many of today’s life challenges look very different from when we grew up. What kind of adult support does a modern child need? By helping your child to build important life skills, you are helping them to develop sound judgment and good habits for long-term stability & wellness.

Through well over a decade of work in education, observations and conversations with other educators, I have pinpointed seven critical areas where children seem to need support the most.

By providing just the right amount of support, challenge and positive feedback, you can nurture  your child’s drive toward self-reliance and an effective adult life.

As a caregiver, try to take a moment to observe your child’s behavior before intervening. Their problem-solving skills might impress you! In my classroom, I tried to live by this rule: Is there blood? Is there fire? Is there a cyclone of air sucking anyone out of the window? If the answer is no, give them a chance to figure things out on their own!

Below are the seven suggestions in how to help children gain more and more independence. Keep in mind, these are only guidelines. You know your child best, so adjust accordingly. In the words of Dr. Maria Montessori, “Follow the child.”

Do everything you can to get your child to sleep earlier and to sleep more soundly. 

Everyone does better after a good night’s rest. Unfortunately, environmental factors can often get in the way.

Things like, snoring siblings, too much light, going to bed too late, a messy or non-restful sleep environment, over-exhaustion and too much screen time too close to bed. Don’t forget diet and exercise! Research suggests that exercise may be the strongest positive influence – all affect your child’s ability to sleep.

Is your child still struggling to get out of bed on time for school? Try setting the alarm 10 minutes earlier each morning. Children need to be at school on time.

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The older your child gets, the more helpful they should be to you.

If your child has been doing chores around the house since they were little, you are well aware of how beneficial this has been for your family. At these ages, your child can handle even more responsibility.

Ask yourself, What chores are important for my child to learn? What are they capable of doing? Remember they are capable of much more than you sometimes think!

If your child typically eats cold lunch, allow them to prepare their own meal each day. 

If at the moment you don’t entirely trust their food choices then make them part of the preparation process.

This can become a fun family activity at night before bed. Talk about quality food choices that will provide energy throughout the day. Cut down on “snack food” choices for it stimulates instant gratification.

Make time in every day for unstructured, unsupervised creative play. 

Structured play, also known as goal-oriented play, generally involves using logic to solve problems, while unstructured play or free play is creative and open-ended. Both are necessary to your child’s development and will cultivate traits encouraging lifelong learning.

However, in the day and age of screens and over-scheduling, children are losing the opportunity for critical unstructured play.

Unstructured, unsupervised creative play allows children to make independent choices, to be bored, to develop curiosity and to explore possibilities.

Find a safe environment where your child can explore and reflect without constant adult supervision. No one needs to be entertained every moment of every day!

Significantly limit your child’s screen time. 

Screen time is an unavoidable reality of modern childhood, with children of every age spending hours upon hours in front of tablets, smartphones and televisions.

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Too much screen time impedes the development of the abilities caregivers are so eager to encourage. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to be attentive, to sense other people’s moods and to communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary. Screen time harms all of these.

According to recent research, 97% of youth play video games; nearly three-quarters of them have an online social networking profile (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.); 91% have a mobile phone; and the typical teen sends an average of 10 text messages per hour!

It’s no surprise caregivers repeatedly hear their children complain about how boring school can be. Compared to its competition, formal education doesn’t even come close to holding a student’s attention. Experts are beginning to believe children are even exhibiting some key signs of addiction.

Power off regularly to help your child understand the clear boundaries between the virtual world and the real world. 

Store all devices in a neutral location each night away from your child’s bedroom. Make sure you know they are stored away each night and not going to bed with your child. Depending on your child, you might even consider keeping devices in your bedroom at night.

Give your child specific and authentic feedback. 

There are times when we have to dig deep to find an appropriate feedback response that will not discourage a child’s learning. Rather than “good job” or “you’re so smart” say, “you must be so proud.” or “I can tell you put a lot of effort into __.” Giving specific and authentic praise supports your child’s development. That is, the belief that intelligence is not fixed but instead can be enhanced by hard work and effort.

Try to take things one day at a time. Little changes today can have big impacts on tomorrow. Allow your child to make mistakes and try to keep in mind that you don’t have to fix everything for her or him. As an adult, you can make mistakes too! We all do.

Some age-appropriate responsibilities 
for elementary aged children might include:
  • Be responsible for their own homework
  • Have complete responsibility for bedrooms on a daily basis (Make bed; put clothes, toys, & projects away;  straighten dresser drawers & closet, etc.)
  • Do more difficult cleaning projects around the house (Scrubbing the kitchen floor, windows, doing laundry, etc.)
  • Put away groceries and help prepare simple meals
  • Take care of younger siblings with a caregiver at home
  • Do unsupervised yard work: (Lawn mowing, shoveling, edging, clean-up, gardening)
  • Handle small sums of money ($10-20) & plan budgets for activities
  • Work summer jobs  (Lawn mowing, dog sitting, babysitting, odd jobs for vacationers)

Also try to remember you are not alone! Nurturing independence takes time and many people are invested in your child’s experiences and development. The old adage states, “it takes a village to raise a child.” The village is here to help you whenever we can!

Do you have thoughts or ideas about nurturing independence? Do you have a suggestion for another blog topic? Please send me an email with your ideas or experiences at

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Read More: Just HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH At Home?

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