Dr. Maria Montessori believed that independence was the most important trait to develop in our kids. She believed it was key to their self-confidence, their ability to learn, their sense of identity, and would enable them to contribute to the world. Developing independence calls for a balance of hovering and neglect. One mantra for Montessorians is remembering that the child is saying, “Help me do this all by myself.” We have to create space for independence and then support from a distance. If the point of childhood is to become a functional adult, then we have to work backwards from 18, 22, 25 (when do you expect them to wear the full weight of adulthood?) and create steps for independence.
Dr. Michael Thompson, an expert on friendship, warns parents to let kids work things out themselves unless there is physical danger. Dr. Julie Lythcott-Haims and Dr. Wendy Mogul both have best-selling books teaching parents how to balance their child’s academic needs with their needs for independence. These authors and many others tie the national depression and anxiety epidemic in teenagers and young adults with a lack of independence (especially through disappointment and hardship) when children were younger.
When we do something for the child we are telling them, “You don’t do this well enough.” Sometimes we want to say that (sometimes they really shouldn’t have certain privileges), but other times we are focused on our own needs or standards and they actually completed the task well enough for their age. If we’re thoughtful and purposeful about it, we will find that there is a lot they can do on their own, while we stand back and observe and maybe encourage — patiently available.