how to raise an independent child

how to raise independent children | bring joy #parenting

I’m learning how to raise independent children. It takes practice.


You see, last week one morning, I desperately wanted to sleep in.

I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before. Joseph was sick with the stomach flu. Typically Joseph or myself runs the morning routine before school–supervising getting the kids dressed, lunches made, breakfast, hair, getting homework & bags together.

I woke up my oldest two (7 & 8) & told them they needed to help the younger ones (5 & 3 year old) with breakfast & getting ready for the day because Joseph & I both needed to sleep.

Asher, my 7 year old’s response was: “Okay Mom.”

I feel asleep, but it was the kind of sleep where I was actually afraid of falling asleep. What if my 3 year old got into the cereal herself? Would they really be able to make & eat breakfast (cold cereal & milk) and make their lunches without our help? I wasn’t sure, but I knew I needed to let them test their boundaries, give them the opportunity to show that they’re capable & responsible (the essence of Merrillee Boyack’s awesome book). And really, I just needed a few more minutes of sleep.

Usually I walk my kids to school, but this day they knew they’d be riding the bus. I had Asher to report to me when they were ready to go to the bus stop. He came into our room about 10 minutes to 7 am.

“We’re all ready & we’re going to go to school now, Mom. You don’t have to get up.”

I did get up.

Though I was certain they were dressed & fed, I had to see for myself. Sure enough, they were all clothed, hair brushed, fed, lunches packed, with their backpacks on. And they had done it all by themselves.

In my why parenting is easier than you think post, I talk about how a lot of parents need to loosen the reins a bit. Resist the urge to hyper-parent. It’s scary, I know. But if we don’t give our kids opportunities to be independent, to learn independence when they are young, they are going to grow up to be fairly ill-equipped adults.

I once asked one of my older brothers how my parents did it.

You know, they had seven children. My mom was a registered nurse. My dad was an investment adivisor, so they both worked outside the home. It was a zoo–& for my parents, what with all of those kids, sports, lessons, homework, & work responsibilities on top of that, I’m sure it was a hefty load to bear at times.

My brothers response?


He’s a little tongue-and-cheek, this brother, & he said it in a half-truth, half-joking way.

I’ve talked about how all of my siblings (I’m at the tail end of the line) have become successful in their own rights. We’ve all received higher education, my brothers are all entrepreneurs doing very well for themselves. They are married, have families of their own. It’s not a coincidence that all of us have grown up to be high-functioning individuals. Though my parents can’t take all the credit, they certainly did a lot of things right.

And one of those things, whether intentional or not, was as I discussed in this post, was teach us independence through their somewhat hands off parenting style.

Joseph & I have diametrically opposite philosophies regarding how to “watch” our kids. Joseph serves as the chief master sargent over the kids when he’s around–he has a plan, a schedule. He dictates & leads with exactness. When I’m in charge, it’s much more: “figure out what you’re going to do or I’ll give you a job.”

For the most part, I expect them to entertain themselves. I provide the environment, I’ll supervise, I’ll suggest things for them to do. I’ll take them to the library, to the park, on walks, swimming. On occasion I’ll have them help me cook or we’ll make a craft. But rarely am I their playmate. I expect even Salem, my 3 year old, who stays at home with me all day to learn how to entertain herself. And she does. She sits & reads books (of her own volition), draws, does puzzles, plays with dolls–all by herself. Sure it’s *just* playing, but I think it’s an important precursor to learning how to be independent later in life, when the stakes are much greater.

I realize it’s often a fine line. That distinction between being an irresponsible parent & being a parent who is teaching their child how to function on their own.

When we were at craft time at the library today, I noticed how the other moms were helping their child with the craft–glueing, taping, even coloring.

I looked down at Salem who was having a hay day stapling the strip that was intended to have two bunny ears on it. She wasn’t doing the craft like she was supposed to. But she was figuring things out, being creative on her own terms. In a word, being independent. And I was absolutely okay with that.


What do you think is the biggest challenge in teaching kids how to be independent?
{For me, it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that they’re growing up & there will come a time when they really don’t need you (but that’s a good thing!).}

P.S. I’ve compiled all of my recipes in one easy to navigate recipe index page. Check it out!
(& I have fun looking at some of my older posts–oh, the photography.)


  1. Pingback: 10 reasons to teach the love of reading

  2. Sophie
    on June 12, 2014 at 1:59 am said:

    What a wonderful find! It’s so refreshing to find your views on independence. My daughter is 19 months old, and I often toy in my mind between showing her how to do something or letting her just explore and see what happens- when I let her be, she seems to learn so much more, it’s magical to watch her little mind at play, experiencing new opportunities and correcting herself as she goes. What a powerful lesson it is for our children to teach themselves creativity, to go with their natural inquisition and learn from their mistakes without anyone telling them (obviously within a safe environment). I’m so pleased I found you, and will read much more of your blog with interest!

  3. Elizabeth
    on June 11, 2014 at 10:13 pm said:

    I have a terrible time implementing independent play at home with my only child. She is nearly 3 years old now and she wants me to do everything with her. She plays at the park with friends but it’s just me and her at the house. I don’t really know what to do. She has a playroom full of toys. I tell her to play by herself for a while so that I can get work done but it is a constant struggle. Do you have any tips for parents with only-children?

  4. Katie
    on April 21, 2014 at 10:55 pm said:

    I really like this philosophy but I am really struggling to implement it. I have 4 and 2 year old boys. When I leave them alone (in another room) they always get into mischief and/or hurt each other. It’s gotten to the point that I have major anxiety when I know I can’t consciously be aware of them 100%. I have small moments where they will be happily playing for 15-30 minutes, but that’s about it. I’m not sure what to do! I definitely teach and encourage kind behavior – how do I transition from this to independent kids?

    • Janae Wise
      on April 22, 2014 at 4:20 pm said:

      Hi Katie!

      Great questions. Mind if I use them as part of a Independent Child: part 2 post? I think I can more thoroughly respond to some of the things you’ve brought up here in another post. Look for it on Thursday!

  5. Alanna
    on April 21, 2014 at 3:29 pm said:

    This is excellent, Janae. It resonates with me, however, I admit that I probably have a bit of “un-parenting” to do. 🙂
    It’s becoming apparent to my husband and I that our children do expect us to entertain them––a lot!
    I’m glad you pointed out that fine line. We know some irresponsible parents and it breaks my heart.

    • Janae Wise
      on April 21, 2014 at 4:06 pm said:

      “We know some irresponsible parents and it breaks my heart.”
      Me too! I think a higher level of parenting requires quite a bit of discernment. We were at a park the other day & some parents had just left their two small children by themselves (for at least 15 minutes) while they went off to get themselves some food. This is absolutely not what I’m talking about! Nor am I saying kids should be left to entertain themselves with media. I think if we create the right environment, set expectations about what we’d like them to do (figure out a way to entertain themselves–reading, puzzles, toys, games) & stick around on the periphery–in the same room or next door so we can keep an eye on them–kids will have the opportunity to be creative, to explore, & to learn independence within safe boundaries we’ve set without our constant instructions or direction.

  6. April
    on April 21, 2014 at 1:34 pm said:

    I really appreciate you saying that you, personally, don’t want to be and don’t want to view yourself as their playmate. I have such intense guilt at times that I don’t play with my kids more. But honestly just the logistics of running the household leave me with almost no time to do anything other than that. Sometimes it’s either play with them or eat. Rarely can I do both. I hug them-as often as I can, I tell them how much I love them, I help them with things they need (food, dressed, etc), I help them with homework, I read to them. But playing with them is a true rarity. I also really appreciate that you mention that when S is home alone with you she entertains herself. Next year I will have an every day all day at school kid and a half day, every day kid. That leaves my 2 (by then 3) year old home alone w/o a playmate for at least part of the day every day. Hearing that another mom *gasp* lets her kid play by herself makes me feel so much better because I know mine will be doing that a lot. Thank you.

  7. Kelly
    on April 20, 2014 at 9:05 pm said:

    In the recipe index, when I click on quick, desserts pop up.

    • Janae Wise
      on April 21, 2014 at 1:46 pm said:

      Thanks for letting me know! Fixed.

  8. Emma
    on April 19, 2014 at 8:56 am said:

    I’m super impressed with your kids for being able to do that.
    Though I guess thinking about it, it seems natural that they should be able to fend for themselves. “Helicopter parents” are probably the norm these days and so kids aren’t able to do these things or even entertain themselves without Mummy or Daddy’s intervention. I definitely agree with your approach.

    • Janae Wise
      on April 19, 2014 at 9:54 am said:

      “I’m super impressed with your kids for being able to do that.”
      Kid’s actually love to have the opportunity to be responsible–just too often they don’t get the training & opportunities to prove themselves in that way.

      (I love that you Brit’s say mummy.)

      • April
        on April 21, 2014 at 1:35 pm said:

        Sometimes I tell my nearly 8 yr old that she’s “babysitting” when I have to do something that puts me just feet from them. She LOVES it and feels SO grown up!

  9. Leanne
    on April 18, 2014 at 2:05 pm said:

    Totally agree with you Janae! I did not and still do not “entertain” my kids. Yes I play games with them from time to time. And read almost daily to them, but for the most part, they are on their own. I believe when we leave them be they will find out what their interests are and pursue them.

  10. Erin
    on April 18, 2014 at 1:13 pm said:

    This is certainly an interesting topic. It seems like by taking this approach, your children would have to become more observant and use their critical thinking skills more instead of relying on constantly being told what to do and how to do it.

    • Janae Wise
      on April 18, 2014 at 1:36 pm said:

      Exactly! I’ve noticed that critical thinking is a skill so necessary for survival in our information inundated world–it’s something that yes, I hope by taking this approach, I will be able to help my kids sharpen & hone.

      “constantly being told what to do and how to do it.”
      And this right here, is the reason so many 20 year olds (& older) are struggling to live in the real world, without parental help. They have always been told what to do, how to do it. Living in a very safe, clean & tidy existence with not much room to make mistakes (& thereby learn) is producing kids who grow up to be adults who lack critical thinking, real world coping skills.

  11. Lisa C.
    on April 18, 2014 at 10:18 am said:

    Colette, I know I will have a very hard time when that day arrives for me. (((Hugs)))

  12. Kristi
    on April 18, 2014 at 7:36 am said:

    Fantastic post! I completely agree!

  13. Lisa C.
    on April 18, 2014 at 5:59 am said:

    This is a timely post as I have been completely exhausted lately with life. It has been a rough winter.

    I think thisvis the best thing I could have read this morning.

  14. Emma (This Kind Choice)
    on April 18, 2014 at 4:57 am said:

    I really enjoyed this post, Janae. My parents separated when I was quite young and I spent weekdays with my mother and weekends with my father.

    I feel like my mum had relatively similar views on “watching” us to you – providing the environment and then expecting us to entertain ourselves without her being a “playmate”. I think this was also because we were with her for a longer period of time each week, and during the days where she worked. It felt very natural and normal to fit around other activities (I do mean that in a positive way).

    My father, on the other hand, only saw us on weekends and always cleared his timetable completely and focused on us. I am ever so grateful he did this (I know not everyone experiences that level of attention from both parents, whether divorced or not) and I respect him enormously for it, but it did feel quite different. Almost like there was a little pressure to do something, rather than just be.

    Anyway, very interesting post, thanks again!

  15. Colette
    on April 17, 2014 at 11:58 pm said:

    I agree. I think our mom did a great job of encouraging us to figure things out. I am now entering the phase you finished your post with. I now have three adult children. By fall I will be down to just two left at home. I have to say, it has not been the joyous reality I anticipated and imagined when they were runny nosed, creative mess making, waking up in the middle of the night children. In fact, I’d say at this point it really stinks. In fact, I could write a whole guest blog post on it. I am working on finding the joy in this stage. No one prepatres you for your children becoming independent and not needing you all the time.

  16. Meredith
    on April 17, 2014 at 6:29 pm said:

    I love this post (and your new recipe index)! We won’t be having kids for a couple of years, but I hope to have a laid back approach and let them learn how to be independent.