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Osakis Voices: Helping your child to be independent

During the time of year when we think about doing things for others, I wanted to reflect on that same concept we sometimes struggle with as parents. From the time our children are born, we are programmed to take care of them and meet their every need. As they grow up and are able to do more on their own, we sometimes struggle with letting our children learn how to be more independent. We are still in the mindset of "protecting" our children from everything. Unfortunately, all that well-intended protection can get in the way of them building independent life skills so necessary for them to learn and be successful as they grow up.

Although it is clear that parents who are involved in their child's education can contribute to their well-being and success, overprotective parenting can do more harm than good. Parents can be a source of support for their children or they can create frustrating obstacles to success. Although parents are well intentioned, the dangers of overparenting, can include many negative effects on children. This can make it difficult for children to learn the skills of communication, negotiation, responsibility, decision making, goal-setting, and sticking to something and seeing it through to completion. Also, children may feel anxiety if they don't feel capable of doing things on their own.

To avoid the many pitfalls of overparenting:

• Don't do everything for your child. Let them do things for themselves, including their homework. Although parents can give extra help and encouragement, homework is a time for children to initiate tasks and work on understanding the topics being taught. Will they make mistakes? Probably, but they are then able to learn from those mistakes.

• Don't refer to your child's activities as shared responsibilities. Avoid saying things such as, "We have homework to do tonight," or "We have a test coming up this week." Using this language implies that your child is not the one responsible for planning and completing these tasks. Your child benefits from taking ownership of his or her responsibilities and the successes that may come from working at them.

• Don't drop everything. When your child forgets something like his/her gym clothes or homework, don't rush them up to the school. Instead, let them face the consequences of forgetting.

• Don't communicate too frequently. In this day and age, it is all too easy to be in contact with our children. Multiple phone calls, emails, or texts throughout the day can leave your child feeling nagged and can instill a sense of learned helplessness.

Instead try to:

• Set realistic goals. Based on your child's age and abilities, set appropriate expectations for behavior and academics. While your child may not currently be able to manage their homework independently, you should work with them to teach these skills and praise efforts toward independence.

• Make a plan. One way to help your child gain independence is to help them make lists and schedules. Once the schedule is made, your child can monitor their own progress and learn that independence.

• Step back. Let your child take responsibility for meeting expectations or accepting the natural consequences for not meeting them. Setting high expectations sends the message that you believe they can meet them.

It's important to remember that well-intentioned involvement can sometimes cross into overparenting. This can have negative consequences for our children both at school and home. As we approach the end of one year and look ahead to 2019, keep these recommendations in mind to reach a balance of providing support while fostering responsibility and independence.

Osakis Voices is rotating column written by community leaders who share their thoughts in their field of expertise.

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