How to Raise Independent Kids

Dawn Marcotte

Do you ever look at your life and wonder, “What happened? This is not how I planned to raise my kids.”

When I was a child (a very long time ago), I remember–

  • Riding my bike down the street to a friend’s house to play for the day.
  • Going back out to play after supper until after dark so I could catch fireflies.
  • Playing in the local pond/creek/lake until I was soaked.
  • Walking to and from school without any parental supervision.

As I grew up, my parents allowed me to do more and more on my own as they thought I was capable of handling it.

When I had children, I just assumed I would kind of fall into the same pattern as my parents.

I didn’t – at least not at first.

Everything I saw on television and social media convinced me that the world is a much scarier place today. If someone didn’t kidnap her, then a favorite toy might suddenly turn dangerous, or a neighbor’s child would turn out to be a sociopath or…..

The list of everything I was afraid of happening goes on for a long time.

I never let my oldest child out of my direct line of sight, unless she was at daycare where they had strict rules about checking kids in and out with designated adults.

It was exhausting, but she was safe.

Then two things happened to change my parenting style:

  1. I learned that according to the Polly Klaas Foundation, less than one percent of all kidnappings are the “stranger” variety shown on television and in movies, and I learned that in television “if it bleeds it leads.”
  2. I had my second child.

We changed our parenting style completely. Although I think it was more about having more than one child, than any sense of improved safety.

When we had two children, it just wasn’t possible to constantly watch them both all the time, so I started to let the older one play in the neighborhood without me watching.

What are some of the things we let our kids do now that they are a teen and tween?

  • Bike to the park without a parent (but always with a buddy or each other).
  • Take the bus to the mall and walk around.
  • Ride bikes to the local bakery for treats.
  • Attend Anime conventions without parental support (okay, we did go to the first three but after that, we were done).
  • Trick or Treat without parents.

If we don’t give our children the room to grow and make mistakes while we are still there to catch them, they will be completely lost when they are thrust into an adult world.

Giving them lots of opportunities to make choices when they are in grade school will help them learn to make the right choices when they are teens. If there is always someone there telling them what to choose, how will they know the right choice when they are alone?

Obviously we started small and worked our way up to allowing what we do now, but those small steps led to our girls knowing what to do and how to take care of themselves as needed.  We tried to teach them to listen to their guts and act on it.

Unfortunately, I think we may have done too good a job. Recently my oldest daughter announced that when she graduates from high school in a couple of years she wants to take her sister (who will be 12 at the time) on a road trip and drive to Washington state – without any parents.

So how can you start your kids on their journey to more independence?

  • Start small. Let them play outside with their friends without direct supervision – if you can see them out a window, you might feel better about it.
  • Let them walk alone to a neighbor’s house to play.
  • Let them play at the park while you sit nearby, but far enough away that they have to make their own choices on how to deal with situations.
  • Let them be in charge of navigation when you go places. This may start with “finding” the right aisle at the grocery store and progress to reading a map while on vacation or navigating public transportation.

Of course there are some rules they should follow:

  • Require them always to tell you where they are going, even when it is just over to a neighbor’s to play in the yard.
  • Use the buddy system when going anywhere.
  • Make sure they are clear on the rules about where they are allowed to go on their own and when they need to ask a parent to come along.

Expand the options as they get older and prove that they can handle the responsibility.

It may feel uncomfortable at first, but they will be learning decision-making skills they just won’t get any other way.

Head to the Family Room


How to Raise Independent Kids

 This post was written by Dawn Marcotte exclusively for BonBon Break Media LLC.

Dawn Marcotte is a writer and mother of 2 children. She has had articles published in Zoom Autism Magazine, Autism Daily Newscast and other autism related blogs. She can be found on her website ASD-DR or on Facebook.