Independence and Parenting

With Independence Day coming up in the next 2 weeks, the topic of independence and parenting has been on my mind. I recently did an interview with our local newspaper, The Signal, on just that topic.  The article appeared in the parenting supplement of the June 22 edition of the Signal (the yellow insert).

In preparing for the interview, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the role of parents in helping children achieve independence.  Struggles for independence occur at every stage of childhood - from a toddler learning to take his shoes off by himself to a teenager borrowing mom's car for the first time.

As a parent, giving your child some independence is a very important part of helping them become a healthy adult. The way you handle struggles for independence may be different depending on how old your child is, how mature he or she is, and just on their individual needs.

However, one thing remains true - parents must constantly balance allowing their child to explore new freedoms while still maintaining healthy and consistent limits.  Going to one extreme or the other can become a breeding ground for problems.  Limits help kids feel safe and secure while helping them learn how to get along with others.

Parenting research over the years has suggested that an authoritative approach, where parents allow kids to negotiate a bit while still having firm limits, produces the best outcomes in kids in our Western culture.  Being either too passive and permissive or being too harsh and authoritarian are both associated with greater problems in kids.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to deciding when to allow different freedoms for your children.  It really depends on the individual child and parent how this should look.  However, if this is an area of significant struggle and ongoing conflict for you and your child, consulting with a therapist to mediate the conflicts can often be helpful.