Ms. Jessica, Lead Teacher, and one of her graduates, June 2014
With our five year old Sunrise Montessori Primary students graduating and children of all ages returning to in-person classes this August, it made me realize that parents have to go through the paces of letting their child “go” again. Letting them go to school in person, letting them experience after school enrichment or play dates, letting them take the bus or walk home. This isn’t really letting go though, it’s allowing your child to exercise their independence. But we’ve been sequestered for so long, it can feel uncomfortable. Odd even. I went through this recently with my 17 year old son, John. My husband, Rob, and I took him and a friend to Disney World last week to celebrate the end of Covid (at least, that’s what we referred to it as!) and the return of being out and about. Why did we choose Disney World versus many other alternatives? So that our son could exercise his independence freely and in a safer environment (it had nothing to do with me finally experiencing Star Wars’ Galaxy’s Edge and walking through the Millenium Falcon, nothing at all ;). John took the air-conditioned buses to and from our hotel to the parks and used a wrist band to pay for food and get into our room. At first, it was actually a little hard for me to let him go. And he drives! But allowing him so much freedom was by design. It was important that he remembered how to be on his own and make decisions, then live with the consequences if something didn’t turn out the way he wanted (like sleeping in and waiting in line longer to experience the rides). So if my high school Senior is making me mildly anxious walking around Florida without me, it made me realize that the two or three people who will read this blog post may be also be a little leery of letting their child go, too.
You aren’t letting your child go, you are allowing your child to exercise their independence
Independence is a healthy and important aspect of human development. It’s why our Sunrise Montessori classrooms subscribe to what we fondly call “organized chaos.” What that means is that our students walk around during their work period. They decide what material to work with. Where to put it. How long to learn from it. They are in control because they are independent to make all those choices. How can we raise our children to be free thinkers, to learn the art and science of Executive Function, if we never give them the freedom to do so? What would a child’s life look like if they didn’t they didn’t have enough independence, if they didn’t learn to experience things on their own? How do our children learn self-control? To make mistakes and learn from them? To deal with other people treating them poorly at times so they learn how to respond? All of these life lessons are crucial and are taught by letting them go, to be independent of us for stretches at a time.
Independence is also learning how to take care of yourself
That one probably seems obvious, but it gets blurry when it’s our own child. Case in point, John will be applying to colleges this fall and we went on a campus tour at A&M in College Station recently. We learned that this large school of roughly 50,000 students has about 24,000 Freshmen at the beginning of each year and ends with half that. Think about that…12,000 students drop out every year so they have to admit double that just to keep their numbers on track for future grades. Why? There are some obvious reasons but the number one? They never learned how to be independent. Never learned how to wash their clothes, never learned how to balance studying with going to class and having a social life, never learned how to go to parties and make new friends in a healthy way. Raising your child to be independent has far reaching consequences for them when they are young adults and this isn’t a switch you can just turn on their last year of high school. It starts when they’re young, which is why John started doing his own laundry when he was ten years old. It takes thousands of sole experiences for your child to develop into a strong, independent-minded adult.
What happens if your child isn’t raised with independence?
This is what happens to children who were NOT raised to be self-reliant:
- Depend on others to provide them with the incentive to achieve.
- Depend on others for their happiness because they have no ownership of their lives and little responsibility for their own thoughts, emotions, and actions.
- Reinforced with inappropriate rewards and no limits, and regardless of their behavior.
- Poor decision-makers because their parents hold the belief that they always know what is best and make decisions without soliciting their children’s wishes.
In contrast, children who were ENCOURAGED to practice their independence are:
- Intrinsically motivated because they are allowed to find their own reasons to achieve.
- Were given the opportunity and guidance to explore achievement activities of their own choosing.
- Parents use extrinsic rewards appropriately and sparingly.
- Collaborative rather than a controlled relationship with their parents in which the children’s ideas and wishes are solicited and considered.
- Good decision-makers because they were allowed to consider various options and, with the support and guidance of their parents, make their own decisions.
There are perks for parents of independent children, too! Like sleeping in on the weekends. And who doesn’t want the warm and fuzzy feeling of waking up slowly two mornings a week?!?
As is typical with teenagers, my son doesn’t share a lot of what’s going on in his head. And he doesn’t like getting asked a lot of questions either. 😉 I have to rely on secondary sources to find out sometimes how he’s really doing, like his grades, talking with his friends or teachers, and checking on his computer search history (shhh!) to discover if he’s making the right choices. I don’t always like what I find out, and when I don’t John and I talk about it, but I’d rather know that he won’t allow someone to pick on him or learned the hard way how to get good grades than not being able to figure out how to “adult” successfully. So as things open up in our country, allow your child to go back to taking taekwondo or walk to a friend’s house after school. These experiences will teach your son or daughter that you trust them to make good decisions and help them become the kind of adult you can be proud of.