Parenting Resources

Building Independence in Elementary-Age Children

New social environments (such as school and sports teams) provide great learning opportunities for your elementary age children – and allow them to develop increased independence. Children are learning to accept leadership from non-parental adults, are utilizing problem solving skills with their friends as they learn to share and to compromise, and are developing increased responsibility.

Dr. Jim Taylor, a psychologist from the University of California, San Francisco, differentiates “contingent” children from “independent” children in an article titled, Parenting: Raise Independent Children. Contingent children are dependent on others for how they feel about themselves.”  They “depend on others for their happiness because they have no ownership of their lives and little responsibility for their own thoughts, emotions, and actions.”  

In order to avoid raising contingent children, parents must be willing to
(1) allow their children to make age appropriate decisions
(2) value their children’s choices, and
(3) offer guidance without being controlling

Some options include:

  • Allow your child to make age appropriate decisions for the family – meal planning and entertainment choices, for example. Children will view themselves as competent and helpful, and as they make good decisions, they will develop maturity and independence.

  • Make sure your children have chores that help the entire family.  Making their bed helps them – but they should also be doing tasks that show they are contributing to the family.  Washing dishes, setting and clearing the table, sweeping the floor are all possibilities at this age.

  • Remember to take the time to teach children new skills before asking them to take on new responsibilities.  When teaching your child, you may need to break the task down into several steps, demonstrate how to do the tasks, and then review with them.  Sometimes drawing a picture or writing down the steps can be helpful.

  • When children take the initiative to do more—such as take out the trash without being asked, positive parental reaction reinforces that behavior and encourages maturity

  • Allow children to experience consequences to their actions and especially avoid interfering with the consequences determined by another adult in leadership. For example, if the teacher has determined that your child must miss recess due to incomplete work, don’t try to rescue your child from the consequence of irresponsibility.

  • Consider providing appropriate monetary allowance to help your children learn how to use and how to save money.  

  • Have your child plan and help cook a meal on a regular basis

  • Teach your child how to do the laundry

  • Make an emergency plan with your child.  Discuss what to do in case of fire, earthquake, illness.  Show interest by affirming good ideas and even taking notes.  Have them help your family make a plan that everyone can use

  • If you have pets, allow your child to take over the care of the pet (feeding, watering, walking, cleaning cages)