Rules that create independent children seem like an oxymoron. Rules are usually seen as a way to constrict or limit what a child can and cannot do, but when used correctly rules can be a tool to develop independence in children. I want my children to grow up and not have to rely on Mama and Daddy, so we’ve implemented a few rules in our household to give them a start on that long road to self-reliance. And a little perk is that most of these rules make my life easier NOW. Yes please!
(A little disclaimer: These are age appropriate for my eight-year-old and five-year-old. I wouldn’t suggest these exact rules for a toddler or teenager! Modify as needed.)
If Mama is busy, you are either helping or outside. If you come inside and are not helping, you will get a chore.
Why it works: Hot, cold, rainy, hurricane; it matters not. If given the choice to work inside or go outside, my children will usually choose to go outside and do what children should be doing: playing! It gives them incentive to stay out of my hair, while I get some work done. Sometimes though, they just really want that one on one time with Mama, and will choose to help with whatever I’m doing. I’ll get them busy chopping vegetables for dinner or scrubbing baseboards beside me. These times always produce the best conversations and melts my heart.
Mom Perk: If they’re outside, they’re not making a mess inside. Score. If outside is just so unbearable and they venture in, something will get done inside the house! The towels will be folded and the dishes will be put away. Whining should be minimal because it was their choice to come in!
If I help you open something, I get the first sip or bite.
Why It Works: My friend and fellow Red Stick Moms blogger, Tiffany, brilliantly refers to this rule as “Mom Tax.” Kids want to avoid paying “Mom Tax” and are motivated to learn how to independently open their own snacks and drinks. Throughout life, no matter what situation, I want my girls to first try and try again, and then politely ask for help if they truly need it. There is no shame in needing help, but if you can do it for yourself, you should.
Mom Perk: If I get the first bite of the chips or granola bar, I don’t mind stopping what I’m doing to help open it. It’s pretty great.
I will not help you on playground equipment.
Why It Works: Most children have a good sense of their own ability if they are left alone to test it. I don’t help my children climb or slide or go across anything at the playground. Partially because it could give them a false sense of their ability, and partially because I want them to develop these skills on their own. Will they get hurt if I don’t help? Maybe. Scrapes and bruises can be painful teachers, but they’ll heal. Learning their own limits and a sense of accomplishment when a they do it on their own is worth the risk.
Mom Perk: Okay, I’ll admit it. It’s also partially so I can be a little lazy while they are on the playground. I bring them to the park to wear them out. It defeats the purpose if I wear myself out with heavy lifting and chasing! Park time is relaxation time!
You ask for what you need or want. You will use your manners.
Why It Works: This rule is for grocery stores, the library, and restaurants. My kids ask me all.day.long. for every conceivable thing and have no problem doing it, but will clam up with strangers. When my oldest daughter was about 3, she first noticed the free suckers at the grocery store checkout. She asked me for one, and I told her she had to ask the cashier. I wasn’t going to do it for her. It took her about a year to work up the courage to ask for the sucker. She’s naturally shy, but she did learn to confidently and politely speak to the cashier because she wanted that sucker! Both my children now order their own food and ask for their own refills at restaurants. At the library, they ask the librarians for assistance with the children’s computers and for help finding books. Polite and clear communication is a skill many lack, but can carry you far in life.
Mom Perk: The ball is in the kid’s court to get what he or she wants. If we leave the grocery store without the sucker, it’s not my fault, so it can eliminate some whining. SOME whining.
If you wake up before I do, you’re allowed to watch TV and make your own breakfast.
Why It Works: In our house we only have about seven TV channels, so I don’t have to worry about the kids watching something R rated at 6am. They both learned early on how to find LPB and start DVDs, and they know where to find fruit, yogurt, and cereal. My oldest daughter has the ability to make eggs on the stove, and did it solo once (oops) before we limited stove use to when a parent is in the kitchen. They’ve learned that Mama doesn’t always have to be right there next to them at every waking moment to provide their every need. Another way to handle early-risers is to use this color coded clock. My friend and Red Stick Moms blogger, Jennifer, uses it successfully with her pre-school-aged daughter. Her daughter can play in her room until the clock turns a certain color at a time set by mom.
Mom Perk: Ummmm…this one is a self explanatory! Who doesn’t want – no, NEED – 30 extra minutes in bed?
We love our kids and don’t mind doing things for them. Moms: it’s what we do. However, we want them to eventually stretch their wings, leave the nest, and make their own way in the world. The type of help I should be giving my children is the type that helps them figure out how to navigate life without me. I have a long way to go before I have an empty nest, but my hope and prayer is that the small things my husband and I do now will make for an easier transition into adulthood for our girls.