Fostering Indepencence in Kids : Can it ever be too much? (By Darah Z.)

(I think this is an important and timely issue to address, especially with all the debate between “helicopter” moms and “free-range” moms, and the issues of safety, creativity and independence that are being argued.  Let’s hear your thoughts! Mine are in the comments … — Sanemom)

By Darah Zeledon

Today I noticed my 26 month-old daughter disrobing and removing her own diaper. I had to stop her just short of wiping and changing herself.

My first thought was - if she’s willing to clean and diaper herself, what the heck is she still doing in these things anyway?

My second thought was - is she ahead of the “curve” in terms of self-sufficiency? Is this normal?

Honestly, I don’t keep tabs on what is “age-appropriate” as far as dexterity, gross and fine motor skills, speech development or much else. I just assume they’ll catch up to wherever they’re supposed to be whenever they’re ready. This seems to work for us - they have the freedom to evolve naturally without Mama drilling, practicing or pressuring. (I digress, let me make this clear - when it comes to studying, that’s a whole other topic and not what I’d like to address here.)

Fostering independence and encouraging self-reliance no doubt helps children’s self esteem tremendously- essentially the foundation for an emotionally healthy attitude toward self and others. For example, I notice when all my kids turn the “magical” two, everything has to be done by their own hands or at the very least, their way. If I try to intervene and do for them- out of lack of patience to wait another 37 minutes for a single sock to be pulled on properly- they get frustrated and belligerent. When I allow them to do for themselves, they inflate with pride and self confidence and Mama’s additional praise is unnecessary.

Reflecting upon the type of parent I am, perhaps my “laissez-faire style” is inadvertently helping them develop into independent creatures and thus preparing them for the world-at-large. Instead of being a “helicopter parent,” I tend to be more hands-off- guiding and coaching from the sidelines. I’m frugal in offering praise and dote only when something is outright stupendous. My affection has no limits and I’ll oftentimes smother them with hugs and kisses, yet- ask me for help putting on a shoe, belt, or to fetch a cup from the cupboard - things they can figure out to do solo - and I adamantly refuse to assist.

Thus, out of necessity, each one must hone skills geared for achieving tasks that are just beyond their physical grasp and maturity level. And, with so many of them running around, I notice increased levels of mutual cooperation and exchanges of favors when Mama stays out of it. My older daughter was tickling her brother to sleep the other night once they’d realized I was unavailable and busy with the little one. These are small miracles that surely would never happen if I were to butt into every interaction.

My question - is it possible to foster too much independence and self-reliance? Is there such a thing?

If a child receives adequate love, physical and emotional support from their caretakers, are there any hazards to not coddling or pampering a child beyond infancy?

Is it cold-hearted on my part, wise parenting or just plain laziness?

Whatever you may want to label it - I think my kids are stronger and better off for it!


Darah Zeledon. Mother of five, freelance writer, small business owner, and fitness freak, Darah has just returned to the US after living 9 years with her large brood in South America.  Through an angle of humor, Darah´s uniquely optimistic perspective of raising children in today’s unstable world has been strongly influenced by her experiences running a household and various businesses in several foreign lands.  You can read more of her here and here.