Developing independence in our children

As a parent and a teacher, I know the benefits of developing independence in our children, which is supported by a wealth of research. Striking the right balance of how much independence you provide and at what stage of their development remains a challenge.

What I have come to understand is that there is great benefit to developing independence in the early formative years, prior to adolescence, when factors such as impulsivity, peer pressure and lack of emotional control, can lead more easily to poor decision-making and unhealthy risk-taking behaviour. Boys by nature are more prone to taking risks and it’s important we provide safe and supportive environments for them to do so.

I believe the most important element we can do to help build independence in our boys, is to trust the guidance we have provided as adults and allow them to have a go at working things out themselves rather than giving them all the answers. They try, fail, reassess and try again. As a teacher, I know that the best learners are motivated, curious and prepared to take risks. Boys who see failure as an opportunity to learn something new have an advantage over those who will not try for fear of failure.

We all want the best for our sons but often our well-meaning attempts at smoothing the paths for them are counter-productive. After all, life is bumpy – it’s how you travel over the bumps that counts.

Here are some useful tips that may help you help your son develop independence, both at school and home:

Focus on the process (rather than the end goal) When the focus is on the process, challenges along the way can be seen as learning opportunities. Failure to succeed is an opportunity for self-reflection so let him fail and learn from his mistakes. Boys need to be allowed opportunities to develop self-assessment skills, which can lead to the development of essential problem-solving skills.

Let him learn independently This will help him develop other important life skills such as organisation and time management. When we provide well-meaning assistance for our sons, we can deny them important opportunities to learn. Be aware of and prepared to support with homework, but don’t do the work for him. It’s all about short-term pain for long-term gain (for both of you).

Choice is an essential motivator When boys are able to choose what they learn about, how they learn it, or who they learn with, there is greater ‘buy in’ and motivation. Involve your son in planning family outings, holiday destinations, dinner selections (within reason – healthy options), etc.

Explain why effort matters Explain that his brain is like a muscle – it gets stronger and smarter through effort and practice. If your son has a basic understanding of brain plasticity and its role in him reaching his full potential, he’ll be more motivated to work hard and less likely to give up.

Ben Gates
Head of Junior School