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Dr. Carey Heller is a licensed psychologist and founding partner with The Heller Psychology Group LLC, which is a small private practice located in Bethesda, Maryland near Montgomery Mall. He specializes in working with children, adolescents, and their families. Dr. Heller conducts play, individual, and family psychotherapy for a variety... Read more

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Give Your Child/Teen Ownership in Their Life to Promote Independence

Dr. Carey Heller: Licensed psychologist in Bethesda, Maryland.

The majority of parents have the ultimate goal (whether they consciously think about it or not) of raising children who will ultimately be independent and successful on their own as adults. At the same time, parents often find themselves with the dilemma of how much to help their children/teens with things so that they get done (i.e., making sure homework is complete, forms turned in, teeth brushed). Depending on how parents assist with these items (i.e., nagging), children and teens may get the necessary things completed, but may struggle with developing independence in doing them. Furthermore, they never suffer the natural consequences of not completing the things (not that this always makes people automatically do what they should anyway).

In order for parents to help their children and teens with long-term success and independence, the following items are suggested:

  • Think about the concept I like to call “parenting for independence” where every intervention that you provide to your child or teen should be geared towards helping them to ultimately do the task themselves. This should be an ideal to strive for, though obviously for very important items and depending on the age of the child, is not always feasible.
  • When your child or teen struggles with something, actively engage them in a conversation to help figure out why he or she is struggling with the item. Work collaboratively with them to create a plan that your child or teen can use (and include assistance from you as needed, which your child or teen can request) to successfully complete items.
  • Gradually increase your child/teen’s responsibility of completing a task themselves as they are able to demonstrate an ability to do more themselves and follow whatever plan was setup.
  • For minor things, don’t be afraid to let your child/teen suffer natural consequences of not doing things, but make sure they use the experience to learn from.

To illustrate these ideas, think about a thirteen year old boy who struggles with keeping track of assignments and completing homework at home. A parent who is only focused on the work getting done may nag this teen each day until they start and finish their homework and micromanage their plan so that the work gets done. Unless this teen pays attention to how the parent helps them and can learn to use those skills himself, he is going to have a problem when he really has to complete homework on his own.

On the other hand, a parent who sits down with their teen and identifies where the issues are, can then work on a collaborative plan to get the work done while helping their teen do more themselves. For example, if the teen struggles with remembering to make a plan for homework each day, start, and then finish, he can create a system that enables him to do the work more independently. Perhaps this plan involves the following:

  • Teen arrives home at 3 PM each day, and has a notification on his phone calendar alert him at 3:10 PM to fill out a preset template of what assignments he will complete that day and estimate completion times.
  • At 3:15 PM, Alexa provides an oral reminder to make the plan.
  • The teen should email the plan to his parents by 3:20 PM and begin his homework.
  • If his parents do not receive the plan by 3:30 PM, they are permitted to contact him to remind him to complete and send them the plan.
  • The teen will email his parents the plan again with everything checked off and review assignments with parents that evening as needed.

Thus, as you can see, nagging a teen to get their work done versus setting up a plan collaboratively both achieve the same short-term goal of getting the work done overall. However, the set plan promotes independence with accountability from parents as needed. Over time, if the teen can consistently send the template, perhaps they don’t need to send their parents the plan each day and thus increase their independence further.

I hope that this article is helpful in getting you thinking about how you can provide your child/teen with more ownership in their responsibilities to increase their independence and ultimate success as they transition towards adulthood.

Copyright 2019 Carey A. Heller, Psy.D.

*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*


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Carey Heller, Psy.D.

About Carey Heller, Psy.D.

Dr. Carey Heller is the author of the blog Practical Parenting Strategies. He is a licensed psychologist with The Heller Psychology Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. He works with children, adolescents, and young adults, providing psychological/psychoeducational evaluations and individual psychotherapy. Dr. Heller specializes in ADHD, executive functioning issues, and Autism Spectrum Disorder and is happy to answer questions and provide consultations for individuals who are considering pursuing treatment or an evaluation for their child, adolescent, or themselves. Dr. Heller can be reached directly at 301.385.2610 or For appointments, please call the office at (301) 385-2610 or email The Heller Psychology Group at with your contact information and availability for appointment times.


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