Fostering Independence in Children: Striking a Balance between Guidance and Autonomy

Parenting is not only about providing kids with the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter. It’s also about training them in the important principles they need to succeed in life. One of these principles is independence.

Unfortunately, teaching self-reliance can be overwhelming for both child and parent. The child will enjoy having things done for him/her. Meanwhile, the parent might struggle to let things go. 

But as difficult as it might be, fostering independence in your little one is crucial. You can only help them so much until they have to do it themselves. To help you through this journey, here’s a post explaining how to encourage self-reliance in kids.

How to Foster Independence in Your Child

When it comes to parenting, you should strive to achieve a balance between independence and autonomy. 

Although it’s important to guide kids into doing the right things, leaving room for independent decision-making is equally important. Allowing them to try things independently and make mistakes is the best way to train self-reliance. That said, here are a couple of things you can do to achieve that delicate balance:

Engage Them in House Chores

One of the best ways to foster independence is to involve them in household tasks. Look for age-appropriate chores that they can do around the house. 

For instance, toddlers can put away toys, place dirty clothes in the hamper, and fold clothes. Older kids can do more heavy-duty chores like washing dishes, loading the washing machine with clothes, prepping ingredients, and cooking. Gradually, your child will learn that they’re capable of doing certain tasks and do so successfully.

Schedule Independent Playtime

Worried that your little one will break their legs when jumping on the trampoline? Or are you scared that they’ll hurt each other when playing soccer or basketball? If you are, there’s a good chance that you hover over them even when they’re playing. 

Although you have good intentions for doing so, you should learn to let go at times. Let them play on their own without instructing them on how or what to play with. Sure, you can keep an eye on them but only from a distance.

Allow Them Space to Make Mistakes

I know just how difficult it can be not to correct your child when they’re about to make a mistake. As a parent, your first thought is to help them out so they don’t go wrong and experience subsequent disappointment. 

But sometimes, kids learn best through making mistakes. So practice restraint and let them carry on. Once they realize they’ve done wrong, they’ll retrace their steps and get it right. Even if they don’t get it right until the third or fifth trial, that’s totally fine. 

Each time they try, they’re learning something new. This way, even if they encounter challenges in your absence, they know how to brainstorm possible solutions until they find one that works.

Avail Opportunities to Feel Like a “Big Kid”

Were you raised alongside an older sibling or relative? If you were, remember how good it felt to accomplish tasks initially reserved for the “big kids”? 

You probably didn’t think much about it then. But this is one way to teach your kids about self-reliance. When you provide similar opportunities, your child will gradually start believing in their ability to do things. So when the time finally comes, they can do tasks independently without asking. Here are some ideas:

  • Give them permission to walk to their neighbour’s house and play with fellow kids. However, this depends on where you live. If you live in a high-traffic area, ensure you help them cross the road and other risky spots.
  • Allow them to pick out their weekend outfits or prepare their own snacks.
  • If they ask the meaning of a certain word, ask them to look it up online or in a dictionary. 

Offer Options Within Reasonable Limits

Another hack that’s very effective in encouraging independence entails offering choices. Doing so makes them feel empowered while simultaneously building a sense of accountability. 

Let’s say your child is refusing to wear a particular shirt. Instead of insisting that they wear it, let them choose the color of shirt they prefer. This makes them feel like they’re in charge of the situation, albeit to a small extent. Similarly, if they no longer want to be picked up from school, allow them to walk home but only in the company of a friend. 

Plan Solo Social Outings

For parents with older kids, planning solo outings is an excellent way to encourage independence.

In fact, you’ll notice that as your child grows older, they’ll want to spend more time with their friends than at home. They’ll want to go for sleepovers, attend birthday parties, and school events all on their own.

Instead of denying them permission, come up with a set of rules so they can exercise their freedom reasonably. For instance, you can allow them to attend a birthday party, but only if there’s an adult around to supervise. Also, they should come back by a specific time. 

Alternatively, you can take the initiative and plan playdates and sleepovers at your place. Have them invite their friends and play whatever games they’d like. 

Encourage Critical Thinking

Is your child at the stage where they’re always asking questions? If they are, this is another opportunity to train them about self-reliance. 

Rather than give them direct answers, respond with open-ended questions. This encourages independent thinking and also sparks creativity. In fact, they might come up with solutions that you would never even consider. 

An added bonus of this approach is that it boosts their confidence and self-expression. When you give them space to think of solutions, they become more confident in sharing their thoughts and ideas. And they learn how to express these opinions correctly.


Finding the balance between guidance and autonomy is tricky but not impossible. The secret is to allow your child to be self-reliant but within reason. To foster independence in your child, give them room to make mistakes, do house chores, go for solo outings, think, and play independently.

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