From having a ‘yes day’ to playing with mud: seven ways to help children feel independent

When you have a child, it’s tempting to become a “curling” parent who sweeps all obstacles out of their way, but children need to take risks to help them become confident, independent adults. So how much freedom should you allow your children?

“The natural instinct of a parent is to protect their children. We don’t want them to feel rejected or hurt, but to build resilience they need to experience difficult feelings and make their way through them,” says Natalie Costa, founder of Power Thoughts, a coaching service for children.

Here are seven ways to give your children some independence – without having sleepless nights …

1 Have a ‘yes day’
First a bold idea, then a book, and now a movie starring Jennifer Garner, a “yes day” is when parents agree to say yes to their children’s suggestions (within reason) for 24 hours. Typically, it leads to events like ice-cream for breakfast, all-day pyjama wearing and a late night. Although the downside might be extreme tiredness and sugar shock, the upside is a boost to your child’s self-confidence. “When you allow children to make decisions you’re letting them know that their opinion counts, so they feel heard and understood,” says Costa.

2 Let them play with mud
Allowing children to embrace dirt and discomfort will benefit them enormously. Jon Millington, director of Wild Learning, which runs outdoor bushcraft camps, has encountered children who have only ever walked on smooth carpets and pavements and never experienced the uneven ground of a forest. “Many children are so protected that they don’t get the chance to learn how to deal with risk,” he says. He has seen how modelling with mud or learning to light a fire teaches children resilience. “Children really want to learn to light a fire but it’s actually quite hard. It takes time and can lead to blisters,” says Millington. “The determination to make a spark teaches you focus and perseverance, and there’s not a single thing in your adult life that those characteristics won’t be useful for.”

3 Put them in charge of a plant
Making a child responsible for watering a spider plant means you’re giving them control and showing trust in them. Plus, spider plants are pretty resilient and can deal with a little neglect. “It’s vital to give children responsibility,” says Costa. “Making them the boss of something such as clearing out the rabbit hutch or feeding the fish gives them a sense of independence. If they do mess up, they can learn what went wrong and work out what they’ll do differently next time.”

4 Encourage adventures
It’s pretty normal for kids – and adults – to feel anxious when they test out their independence by going to playdates, sleepovers and parties. Younger children might keep hold of a favourite teddy for reassurance but kids aged six and up might like the feeling of connection that comes with Vodafone’s new Neo smartwatch. It allows kids to send and receive messages from trusted contacts while the GPS location lets parents keep an eye on their activities from a distance, so children can get on with enjoying their adventure.

5 Allow boredom
“I’m bored” are the words all parents dread, but having to fill time can be a useful developmental tool. “We shouldn’t be afraid of boredom,” says Millington. “Many parents believe they have a duty to entertain their children constantly. But if you let kids spin their wheels for 20 minutes they’ll always find something to do and, because they’ve thought of it, they’ll feel more involved, which will truly stimulate their imagination.” In the long term, they’ll also learn how to take responsibility for their own amusement.

6 Give them freedom in the kitchen
It can be tricky for young children to measure ingredients or follow recipes but parents need to let them try. The reward of creating their own fairy cakes – with a parent supervising the oven – makes the effort worthwhile. And if their creations sink in the middle or burn on the edges, there’s still a lesson to be learned. “Allow your children to fail, to make mistakes,” says Costa. “It’s through facing challenges that our brains learn and grow in confidence.” Check out 10-year-old Buddy Oliver (son of Jamie) making pancakes on his YouTube channel, Cooking Buddies, for a good starting point. If they want to take a picture of their own kitchen creations, Vodafone’s Neo smartwatch comes with a camera that makes it easy to capture those early culinary achievements.

7 Let your child organise a family games tournament
Depending on their age and ability they can make invitations or posters, set up their favourite games, choose a prize for the winner and make the whole event their own. “Children need to feel that they can trust their opinions and decisions,” says Costa. “Otherwise they won’t fully step into their potential and could start doubting their own judgement.” So, whether it’s Snap, Dobble, Bounce-Off or Mario Kart, you’d better get ready to battle.

There are lots of ways to give your kid more independence. Let them do it with Neo, the smart kids’ watch. Find out more from Vodafone

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