The last thing any parent wants is to stifle their child’s development, but it’s hard not to hover! The world can be a dangerous place for young people without supervision, and it’s your job to provide it.
Still, helicopter parenting is equally as damaging, and it’s paramount that you let your child explore their world independently. The right combination of freedom and parental guidance will foster a healthy sense of individuality.
1. Respect Their Autonomy
New experiences offer your child a chance to exercise their critical thinking skills and learn to use them purposefully. Such experiences are an important aspect of developing independence alongside personal responsibility. If you don’t treat your child like a separate person with a separate awareness, then they won’t feel like one.
Do your best, within reason, to let your child move through the world on their own terms. You can safely enable this by giving them a phone for kids to keep in contact while they play in the neighborhood. By allowing autonomous exploration while maintaining a connection, you’ll increase your child’s sense of both individuality and security.
2. Expose Them to Diverse Situations
Experiencing varied situations from an early age, even from afar, helps build a realistic view of the world and their place in it. Say that one day the news is reporting on a war taking place in another country. Your first instinct might be to change the channel, but as long as the imagery isn’t overtly violent, that isn’t necessary. Kids may need these events filtered depending on their nature, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still learn about them.
Take the opportunity to talk about the situation with your child and tell them why it’s happening. Explain why each side is fighting and what issues they’re fighting over. Encourage them to think about how they would act in a similar but more relatable situation.
3. Practice Openness and Honesty
You are your child’s biggest influence, and you want your actions to reflect positive values for them. One of these is transparency. When an emotional situation arises, such as a death in the family, be open about it. They’ll see that you are crying, so there’s no point in pretending you aren’t. It’s easy to block them out and act like they won’t understand your actions, but they’ll be affected regardless.
For example, if one day you’re depressed and your child notices, help them understand that you’re sad, and that’s OK. Or if they misbehave and you need to discipline them, explain your reasoning for it and your method. By being clear and honest about your perspective, you demonstrate that they can be equally honest with you about theirs.
4. Be a Cheerleader, Not a Drill Sergeant
A lot of parents push their children in directions that don’t suit them, generating lifelong feelings of inadequacy. The best way to help your child realize their individual potential is simply not to push if they genuinely resist something. Everyone gets anxious about new things, but if they’re ultimately unhappy after trying soccer, for instance, find a more fitting activity.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have aspirations for them, just that you should prioritize their inclinations over yours. In doing so, demonstrate that you are a source of unending support toward that (and every) end. You want your child to follow their own path confidently — and they’ll be able to do so with your unconditional cheerleading.
5. Participate in Their Interests
Extend your support even further by actively engaging in your child’s interests alongside them. After all, sharing your passions with others is often more beneficial and stimulating than keeping them to yourself. Society can push people in certain directions regardless of their preferences, but it doesn’t always have their best interests in mind.
Maybe during recess, your child would rather search for frogs when other children are playing on the swings. Show them that you not only approve of them going their own way but are interested in the subject. If you demonstrate that their amphibian interests have merit, you might just instill in them the confidence to become an environmental scientist.
6. Cultivate Their Goal-Setting Skills
Confidence is the perfect catalyst for moving forward, but your child may falter if they don’t know how to. Instruct your child early in how to set and achieve goals in a realistic manner and time frame. The sooner you begin cultivating these foundational skills, the more proficient they’ll become in carrying them out. You’ll be able to see it in their study habits, creative endeavors, social development, future career path, etc.
You can do this by providing structure when they’re stymied by a task or activity. Say they’re feeling unskilled at something, like playing basketball. Show them how to dribble, pass, and shoot from various parts of the court. Help them make a plan to grow those skills and reach milestones — such as 50% successful free throws — by a reasonable time.
With you standing behind them, your children can truly reach the heights that they desire. And as a parent, you want what’s best for them, so help that comes to fruition by fostering their individuality. This may mean giving up your dreams for them, but it’s a worthy sacrifice if it lets them flourish uninhibited. No matter in which direction they head, you’ll be proud of who they’ve become.