Parenting for Independence
The general goal of parenting is usually to provide support, guidance, and intervention to assist children in learning to become independent and responsible adults.
However, there is often a fine line between parenting to assist children and adolescents in the present versus parenting in a way to foster independence down the road.
Here’s a brief example: Bobby is a 15-year-old adolescent male with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and difficulty with executive functioning skills. Specifically, he has difficulty waking himself up in the morning, remembering to brush his teeth, and taking his completed homework to school with him. Bobby also has trouble remembering to attend tutoring after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Parent A addresses these issues by waking Bobby up every morning and repeatedly going into his room until he gets out of bed. This parent then stands by the bathroom, reminds him to shower and brush his teeth, and then continues to stand by the bathroom and remind him until he completes showering and brushing his teeth. To handle taking completed homework to school, Parent A asks Bobby every morning if he has his homework and then has him double check his backpack to ensure that it is in there. To make sure Bobby attends tutoring after school, Parent A sends a note with him and his last period teacher reminds him to go to tutoring after school. This parent has been using these strategies since Bobby was five years old to assist him.
Parent B addresses these issues by having Bobby set an alarm on his cell phone. When one alarm did not work to get him out of bed, they had him set a second alarm across the room and then a third one when two did not work. This parent then suggested that Bobby keep a squirt bottle next to his bed and squirt himself in the morning when his alarms go off in order to help him wake up. To assist with remembering to shower and brush his teeth, Parent B helped Bobby to create reminder notes on the bathroom mirror that signal him to shower and brush his teeth when he enters the bathroom in the morning. Once he completes these activities, he crosses them off a morning checklist in his bedroom. As a way to help Bobby remember to bring completed homework to school, Parent B helped him setup a system where he puts all homework assignments in a specific folder as soon as he completes them and then puts it in his backpack before bed. Before leaving the house to go to school, Bobby checks packing his homework off of his morning checklist. Finally, to assist Bobby with remembering to go to tutoring on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Parent B helped Bobby put tutoring in his calendar on his smartphone and set a reminder so that he sees it right after school. In addition, this parent assisted him in putting a reminder for tutoring in a task list application that reminds him about it when he reaches the shopping mall right next to school. Thus, the reminder is set to go off when Bobby reaches a specific destination. In this case, if he leaves school and starts walking home, the reminder app will let him know that he has tutoring so he can turn around and go back to school for it. Parent B has adjusted the strategies used as Bobby has gotten older.
As you should be able to see, Parent A provides interventions to a 15-year-old that might be more beneficial for an elementary school aged child and offers less opportunity to promote Bobby’s independence. Parent B’s strategies equip him with strategies that enable him to monitor his own behavior and actions with limited reminders from his parent. These interventions help Bobby to become more independent.
When using parenting strategies to assist children and adolescents, it is always important to evaluate the strategies used and make sure that they are being used to model appropriate behavior/actions and assist the child or adolescent in developing the skills necessary to become independent. As a young child, frequent reminding/shaping behavior as described in the first example is very useful within reason, but even for elementary school aged children, other strategies can be implemented to foster independence. For example, checklists and reminders on mirrors, doors, and other places, can be useful for elementary school aged children.
When thinking about the strategies that you as a parent use, consider these questions:
1) Do the strategies that I use help my child/adolescent accomplish what they need to do (i.e. does my intervention help them get to school on time?)
2) Do my strategies provide my child/adolescent with skills that they can use to accomplish what they need to do without my intervening?
3) Have you seen significant progress in accomplishment of the tasks at hand since implementation of the strategies?
By evaluating your strategies based on the above-mentioned questions, you can start to determine if the parenting strategies you use are effective and help foster independence, or whether you may need to tweak them a bit to better assist your child.
*Disclaimer: The previous information is intended as general guidance based on my professional opinion, does not constitute an established professional relationship, and should not replace the recommendations of a psychologist or other licensed professional with whom you initiate or maintain a professional relationship*