7 Ways to Foster Independence in Your Children

Guest post written by Jen Holden

Think of a time in your teenage or early adult life when you were most proud of yourself. Who was there?

I’ll bet you recalled a time when you did something totally independent of your parents. They weren’t there to hold your hand, tell you what to do, and give you all the steps to success.

You did it all on your own, and that’s what made you feel proud.

Likewise, we all want our children to become independent thinkers, problem solvers, and self-monitors, but a common problem today is that parents often “hand hold” every step of the way.

Parents tell their children how to do things and when to do them, which causes children to look to their parents for help in everything they do. This is the opposite of independence.

Today I would like to grapple the question, “How do I foster independence in my child?” 

I’d like to preface this list of ideas which a bit of encouragement to begin by first letting go. Let go of the hand holding and the helicopter parenting.

Identify within yourself the level of “help” you will give to your child. I recommend starting small.

Try letting your toddler brush their teeth on their own. It may be messy and a total disaster, but they will improve!

This has to happen in the growing and learning process. You cannot control everything and learning can often be messy.

Here are 7 more tips for intentionally fostering independence in your child:

Model the process, then let them try.

Don’t be afraid to let them fail! Help them reflect on their mistakes and learn from them.

For example: when you are at the airport, let your teenager print their own boarding pass. Show them how then let them try. They may fail the first or second time – make sure to let them know that’s ok, this is how they learn! Then expect that they do this on their own moving forward. 

Problem-solve with your child.

Show them what problem-solving looks like, and give them space to problem solve on their own.

For example: If you’re trying to fix the lawn mower but you bought the wrong part, and now you will have to go back to Home Depot to try finding the part again, instead of kicking the lawn mower and yelling, model how you look up the correct part, go back to Home Depot and talk with a store representative who can help you find what you are looking for. Talk about your process out loud so your child hears your internal dialogue. Show them what persevering through a mistake and dealing with it properly looks like. 

Cultivate curious minds.

When you notice your child becoming interested in something, or curious about a topic, ask them about it! Buy them books on the topic, research it, go to a museum, find an expert on the topic, and give them the opportunity to learn everything they can about it. Don’t force this though…make sure it’s coming from them!

Give your child choices.

Let them choose what is best, how to do something, what they are interested in, etc.

For example: When your child is struggling with something, say to them, “You have choice ______ or choice ______. Which one do you think will be best to help you solve this problem?” 

Set goals.

Make a plan together. Ask your child questions like, “How will you be successful? What do you need to do? What steps do you need to take?” The hope is, that children will start to ask themselves these questions on their own as they get older.

Emphasize a “growth mindset.”

Our abilities are not fixed. Through hard work, passion, perseverance, making mistakes and failing, we can learn anything and achieve new goals.

Be sure to emphasize this truth in your language with both yourself and your kids.

Praise the process, not the outcome.

Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset, states that “praising children’s abilities (“You’re really good at this!”; “Aren’t you a clever girl/boy?”) conveys a fixed mindset – ie: the belief that abilities are simply fixed.

Such praise may feel good in the moment, but it makes children worried about encountering difficulty, making mistakes, and losing their “smart” label.

‘Process praise’, on the other hand, conveys to children that they can develop their abilities and it suggests how this can be done. For example, you could say, “I notice how hard you are working to accomplish ____”, “Wow, I can see you are really focused on the details so you can reach your goal of ____”, or “I can see your synapses firing! Your brain is growing! You are learning something new!”

We find that it makes children more likely to want challenging work and to persist when the work gets more difficult.

Recently, we’ve found that a mother’s level of process praise to a toddler predicts the child’s growth mindset and desire for challenge five years later.

What’s more, the child’s growth mindset at that point predicts achievement in reading and math two years later.”

For example: When you notice your child getting frustrated while struggling to get his or her shoes tied, praise the process. Try saying something like, “I am noticing that you are trying again and again” or “This shows that you are working hard to learn something new!” or “This is challenging work you are doing! I can see your brain growing!” 

There are so many opportunities to give children an age-appropriate amount of freedom and responsibility to make decisions and do things for themselves.

Sometimes we need to step a little out of the way, while still actively engaging in fostering independence in our children.


This guest post was written by Jen Holden who is a veteran elementary school teacher currently living in San Francisco, CA where she teaches 4th grade. After a successful division one lacrosse career at The University of Virginia, she went on to get her M.Ed. Jen is passionate about helping her students see potential in themselves and seek to reach greater heights. Getting her students to truly believe they are capable of growing is a large part of why she became a teacher in the first place. Jen’s hope is to develop joyful, self- directed, engaged learners who have a growth mindset. Learners who are curious about the world around them, who are excited to take on challenges, who are willing to take risks, and who are resilient and flexible in the face of failure. She has studied Carol Dweck and Dr. Jo Boaler’s work since 2010 and continues to be inspired by their work. Jen is an auntie to her two nieces Annabelle and Summer and loves spending time with them whenever she can.