Teaching Kids To Be Independent

If I may paraphrase Alvin Toffler in Future Shock, parenthood is the area with the most number of amateurs. I believe that, more than education, the greatest legacy of a parent is an independent-minded and self-reliant child. This feature, Teaching Kids To Be Independent, is a synthesis of some of the best best ideas on parenting from the most respected experts in this field.

Jimmy’s clan has lived on their Georgia farm for over two centuries. Despite their poverty, his parents were community leaders and Peace Corps volunteers, and he was able to enter the prestigious American Naval Academy. “But the early commitments of our rural family life never changed,” recalls former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. “We still believe in personal freedom, hard work, self-reliance and close family ties.”

Everything begins in childhood. A child’s upbringing and environment will shape his character – and his destiny. With parenting comes responsibility, and based on Dr. Mel Levine’s New York Times bestseller Ready Or Not: Here Life Comes and additional research, here are some tools to empower children to achieve their full potential.

Identity. “Help your kids figure out who they are,” says Levine. Puberty is the crucial time for character development – and an excellent opportunity to instill a sense of self-confidence.

“We’ve long known how vital self-esteem is in a man’s life,” according to psychology Prof. Stanley Coopersmith of the University of California Davis. In his The Antecedents of Self-Esteem, he showed that successful teenagers have parents who gave them 1) unconditional love; 2) respect for their privacy; and 3) respect for their opinions and decisions.

Individuality. Each child is unique. “Identify the kinds of interests they keep coming back to, as these offer clues to the careers that will fit them best,” says Levine.

The good news is that “Some kids are very outgoing and will figure out quickly how to be successful,” noted pioneering child psychologist Toni Falbo of the University of Texas at Austin.

Vision. “Talk about the future on a regular basis,” says Levine. Encourage your kids to form some ideas about their own future.” Go beyond college courses and let your child decide the kind of profession that will give him the most fulfillment. There is no point on choosing the best law school if he wants to be the next Zsa-Zsa Saturnnah.

Let him know that “Having a purpose in your life is the most important element of becoming a fully functioning person,” according to Dr. Wayne W. Dyer of St. John’s University in N.Y., in his bestselling classic Your Erroneous Zones.

Skills. Being overly dependent is self-destructive. “Assign responsibilities around the house and make sure homework deadlines are met,” says Levine. It is the parents’ obligation to help their children develop a sense of responsibility.

The recently retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor exemplifies this principle. When she was 10 years old, she can play with dolls; drive both a truck and a tractor, and “repair windmills and fences on their family ranch at the border of Arizona and New Mexico.

Work Ethic. “Encourage teenagers to take a part-time job,” says Levine. This will help them achieve emotional maturity because “kids need plenty of practice delaying gratification and deploying effective organizational skills, such as managing time and setting priorities.”

The best way teach about finances is to show how responsibly you handle your own. In his Prodigal Sons and Material Girls: How Not To Be You Child’s ATM, financial advisor Nathan Dungan wrote “In teaching your child about money, few issues are as critical as your own regular consumer decisions.”

Discipline. Activities should be balanced. Excessive TV, video games and listening through earphones “can stunt the growth of important communication and thinking skills and make it different for kids to develop the kind of sustained concentration they will need for most jobs,” says Levine.

Discipline is “a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure of meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with,” taught Dr. M. Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled.

Resilience. “Help kids develop coping strategies,” says Levine. “They should know how to deal setbacks, stresses and feelings of inadequacy.” When they lose in a competition, children need a sounding board – and good parents will coach them to get up again and win the next game.

Remind your child that a disappointment does not make him a lesser person. “Mistakes are experiences that prepare youngsters for their futures,” according to Robert Brooks, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School and co-author of Raising Resilient Children.

Intelligence. At a young age, children need to “learn how to solve problems and resolve conflicts, ways to brainstorm and think critically,” says Levine. The best lessons are real-life situations; the classroom is the home; and the best teacher is a parent.

A child needs to explore his growing mental capacities by himself. “Parents who overdo may have a child who doesn’t engage in the thinking process.” Wrote psychology Prof. Laura Berk of Illinois State University in Awakening Children’s Minds.

Grounding. “Avoid creating hyper-inflated egos” because they “will burst in the early stages of a career when supervisors won’t care how gorgeous you kids are,” says Levine. Excessive praise, material rewards and pampering are scientifically proven ways to produce maladjusted and weak-minded adults.

Is it really to a child’s advantage to have a teacher say to a student who’s given an incorrect answer, ‘That’s the right answer to another question’?” asks Dr. Elizabeth Guthrie, co-author of The Trouble With Perfect.

Family Ties. Once a parent, always a parent. When kids are entering young adulthood, “parents still have a pivotal role to play, but now it is more delicate. It is essential for string family ties and trust to prevail throughout this trying period,” says Levine. “Most of all, these new adults must feel that they are respected and supported by a family that appreciate them.”

In his heartwarming book on fatherhood, A Child To Change Your Life, Thomas D. Murray wrote, “I will try to give my children a sense of security, and hope that they develop enough of a willingness and ability to think, that they will feel comfortable with an open mind.”

Role Models. Education starts at home. “Kids need a range of authentic role models,” says Levine. “Have regular dinner-table discussions about people the family knows and how they got where they are.”

Lead by example. “Children learn from the things their parents do,” according to Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, a child psychiatrist. “If we are open to the world and show good judgment, that helps children find the people who will help enrich their lives.”

An act of honesty is forever. The sight of a parent returning excess change to a fast-food service crew or a store attendant will serve as his child’s guiding light.

Remember: “There is nothing more influential in a child’s life than the moral power of quiet example,” wrote William J. Bennet in The Book of Virtues. “For children to take morality seriously, they must see adults see morality seriously.”

Photo courtesy of Disney. Video courtesy of TrailerTrashMedia