What to Do When You Wish Your Kids Were a Little More Independent

Are your kids pushing your buttons because they ask you to do so much for them? If so, you aren’t alone. In fact, at one point or another, most parents think: This isn’t fun. I don’t enjoy this. I’m irritated a lot.

We love our kids so much that it hurts. But sometimes, we’d rather not spend so much time doing things for them. And this is even more compounded now, when families are staying home, in close quarters, and spending all of their time together.

Here is a strategy for establishing some boundaries in your household and reducing some of the tension by encouraging your children to be more independent. The strategy is called “Rights, Responsibilities, and Privileges,” and it’s based on the belief that households function better when children understand that their privileges are directly tied to their responsibilities. Beyond that, you can raise more resilient children by teaching them self-efficacy.

Have a conversation with your children whereby you explain that rights are things to which they are entitled like food, shelter, and safety. These are the things that you, as a parent, are obligated to provide for your children no matter what. Even if they are poorly behaved, get terrible grades, and talk back to you, your children have a right to food, safety, security.

Responsibilities and privileges are a different, though. They go hand-in-hand. If your children are responsible, they get privileges. If they aren’t responsible, they don’t.

When you drive your children to soccer practice, that’s a privilege. When they get to play on the iPad, that’s a privilege. When you host a sleepover (when it’s safe to do so!), that’s a privilege.

But if your kids aren’t doing their fair share—if they aren’t being responsible—why should they have privileges? Why would you go out of your way to drive your kid to soccer practice, pay for an iPad, or host a sleepover if your kids aren’t holding up their end of the bargain?

This is a simple concept, one that kids as young as six can easily understand. It may take several conversations before your children begin to learn that their privileges are tied to their responsibilities, but if you make this concept part of your home culture, your kids will stop pushing your buttons quite so much.

They will understand that they have to clear their dishes and put them in the dishwasher, that they have to pick up after themselves, that they have to talk to you in a respectful tone of voice if they want to have the privileges you offer them.

Every household’s rules are different. Regardless of your rules, though, we suggest that you download the “Rights, Responsibilities, and Privileges” worksheet and initiate a conversation with your children about what is expected of them, and how these expectations are tied to the privileges they have in life.

Then hang the worksheet somewhere in plain sight—perhaps on your refrigerator—and use it as a benchmark for your conversations about your home culture.

Making this conversation part of your home culture has the added benefit of helping your kids become responsible adults. When they understand that taking responsibility for themselves and being respectful bestow on them certain privileges, they are better positioned to be independent, self-sufficient, empowered adults.

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