Teaching self-sufficiency has always been one of the most important things parents can do for their children. In an age in which three quarters of parents with adult children are still having to support them financially, learning self-sufficiency at a young age at home is increasingly crucial.
Not only will it give your children a competitive edge as they mature, self-sufficiency has advantages during childhood too. Teaching children that they are capable and competent gives them the self-confidence they need to try new experiences. This in turn opens up their world beyond the realms of social media and computer games, leading to better mental and physical health, and happier, more fulfilling lives.
Even young children can be supported to become more independent – and, hey, having your kids able to take care of little day to day tasks means more time for mom and dad to get on with the things they need to do too, lowering stress levels all round.
Here are three ways in which you can get started:
Give them tasks and chores to complete
The easiest way to encourage self sufficiency in children is simply to let them do everyday tasks; everything from dressing themselves in the morning, to fixing basic meals, to helping out around the house with laundry and tidying.
Of course, the task needs to be tailored to their abilities, but more often than not parents underestimate rather than overestimate their children’s abilities.
As Kerry Flatley of Self-Sufficient Kids points out, “Often we become so accustomed to doing things for our kids we forget to question whether they are developmentally ready to do them on their own.”
Flatley suggests starting out with just one or two tasks so that your child doesn’t get overwhelmed by having to try too many new things at once. Success builds self-confidence, however, which means that new tasks can become progressively more complex as the child develops new skills.
She also advises parents to master the art of patience. “Your kids will not clean up spilled milk as well as you do or make their beds to your level of perfection. And that’s OK,” Flatley says. “The first hurdle is for them to feel capable of doing these tasks on their own and taking on responsibility. Perfection can come later.”
Instead of giving in to the temptation to step in and do it for them, hold back, let them try, and praise them for their efforts. Little by little, they will soon improve.
Encourage independent decision making
Some children find it difficult to make choices, especially over what to do with their time. Yet decision making is a crucial component of self-sufficiency, as before we can independently complete a task we first have to take the initiative to do it.
If your child is one of those who finds choice overwhelming, help them out by breaking down the possibilities into a few concrete options. You might want to do this verbally, by simply talking through with them what their options are and helping them to weigh up which to go with.
Alternatively, make a chart showing the days of the week with each day split into set periods; for example, you might want to do it hourly, or ‘before school’, ‘after school’, ‘early evening’, ‘before bed’, and so on – whatever works for your family. Next, make a set of cards, each one showing a different task, chore, or activity.
At the end of each week, sit down with your child and help them plan out their next week by having them place cards in each time slot. Be sure to let them make the choice on what goes where. They can then consult the chart throughout the week to know what they should be doing next, without having to ask you regularly.
Teach practical skills
Self sufficiency isn’t just about being able to do the daily chores of life, tidying rooms and balancing checkbooks. It’s also about having the freedom that comes with being able to create your own solutions to problems as they arise, rather than having to wait for someone else to step in and help.
A great way to teach that sort of independent thinking is through fun practical tasks and projects, in which children can see their efforts come to fruition. Here are a few ideas:
Grow your own food: Too often nowadays, adults and children alike are disconnected from the fundamental realities of life – and it doesn’t come much more fundamental than where our food comes from.
Children are naturally enchanted by the magic of seeing a seed develop into a fully grown plant, all the more so if it’s something they can actually eat. Once hooked on gardening, that magic never quite goes away.
The best part is that you don’t need a large garden to teach children how to grow food. Many fruits and vegetables can be grown in a sunny spot on a windowsill, especially those that require warmer climates. Tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, lettuces, and herbs such as basil and oregano are all great windowsill plants.
Once you have harvested your produce, encourage your children to help prepare a meal using the food you have grown, so that they can experience the whole journey our food takes, from seed to plant, to harvest to plate.
If you want to go a step further, local farms (especially petting farms) will sometimes take families as volunteers to learn basic animal husbandry skills like cleaning animal pens, feeding the animals, hatching chicks, herding sheep, and keeping the animals in good health.
Make something to wear: Fashion has become so cheap that most of us buy and discard garments without a second thought. But for most of history, people made and repaired their own clothes, keeping them in good condition for many years.
Tutorials in basic sewing skills such as threading a sewing machine and mastering the different types of stitches are easy to find on YouTube, as are step by step instructions on how to follow patterns to make basic garments, such as t-shirts, loose trousers and skirts. Once your kids get hooked on being able to create their own unique garments to their taste, they won’t want to go back to shop-bought – and you can start sooner than you think. Hello Sewing suggests that most 6-year-olds can use a machine with supervision, and eight-year-olds can be let loose on their own.
Younger children may find full garments a challenge, but can be taught basic hand-sewing skills. They may also enjoy activities such as knitting, crochet, and lace-making which can be used to create fun personalized embellishments for their clothes.
Learn mechanics and maintenance: We are surrounded by machines and other technologies that we rely on daily to get through life, yet how many of us really understand how they work, or how to keep them in good repair?
Children love to break things apart to see if they can put them back together again; next time you’re about to take an old piece of equipment to the dump, give it to your kids to take apart instead, so that they can see how things are made.
Ham radios are also a time-tested way to get children involved in mechanics and electronics. The ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio in the US, has a full list of local clubs, most of which offer tuition in how to get started.
Meanwhile, there are a thousand and one gadgets and gizmos in every household that need to be maintained, from clearing leaves from the gutters to unclogging drains, changing light-bulbs and basic car maintenance like changing worn-out brake-pads and flat tires. Involve your children in all of these jobs as soon as they are old enough to show an interest.
If you found this post useful, why not share it so others can benefit too?