A natural part of the transition process for children growing out of the early childhood stage is for them to seek out more independence. They start to pull away from their parents, and they want to spend more time with their friends and less time at home. So how do we promote healthy independence while giving the child the tools they need to be safe in the different environments they’ll encounter?
With great power comes great responsibility
While a middle school or an older elementary student might not be as enthusiastic about chores as an early childhood student, they are very capable and ready for purposeful work. They are ready to start preparing their school lunches or basic meals for the family, as well as clean up after themselves.
Older children can be given additional chores that contribute to the household, such as learning to use the washing machine and dryer, taking care of family pets (feeding, watering, walking, and cleaning up), or cleaning the bathrooms. By doing larger jobs, the child feels like they are a responsible member of the house and are adding value.
Community support and safety
It is important for older children to go out and explore, and, with practice and discussion, parents can feel more secure with letting that happen. Going on walks and bike rides together, taking trips to the YMCA, or going to local parks can give parents and children time to see what they might encounter along the way and discuss how to handle different situations. This also gives parents a chance to point out the different friends and helpers in the community, should the child encounter a challenge.
Safety is paramount, so making sure a child understands bike rules and crosswalks, as well as knows crucial phone numbers (mom’s, dad’s), are important before he goes out on his own.
People and phone skills
Another way older children can take more responsibility and gain more independence is by learning how to talk to adults who they might not know, but who are an important part of daily life—bank tellers, store clerks, wait staff. Have your child practice asking for things with “Please” and “Thank You,” making eye contact and making a correction if they are misheard (ex. “Actually, I would like pickles on my cheeseburger, please”).
With the widespread use of cell phones by pre-teens, they are missing the opportunity to practice their phone skills with their peers as well as adults. Encourage your child to call the landlines of family members and your friends to practice greeting someone and making initial small talk before making requests (ex: “Hi Aunt Joan, this is Jenny! Yes, it was nice to see you last week, too. My mom would like to talk to you—do you have time to chat with her?”).
Taking these small steps and letting your child handle interactions with you will go a long way in giving them more confidence and allowing them to develop into a well-mannered member of society.