Teaching Children to be Self-Reliant

tug of warTeaching my child to be self-reliant is best compared to a game of tug of war. Not against an opponent, but against myself.

Here’s how the game plays out in my head:

“Let him do it.”

“But, what if he…?”

“Stop talking. Stop giving guidance and walk away!”

“But, but, but…”

“Just walk away!”

This week, my son and I have both been on a learning journey. He’s learning to become self-reliant and I’m learning to let go. I haven’t quite figured out which one us is struggling the most with this, but I’m fairly positive it’s me.

It’s much more difficult to keep my mouth shut and not offer guidance, than I thought it would be. In the meantime, he’s doing great! He’s learned to wash his dishes and put them away. He’s even learned to prepare his own meals from the very first step all the way through to the last.

Today while he prepared his lunch, I had to force myself to leave the room and not come back until he was done, so that he could do everything on his own, without me butting in. Keeping myself distracted in a different room, I listened as he worked and nervously wondered what the kitchen would look like upon my return.

After a few minutes the noise stopped, so I felt safe to resurface. Turning the corner, I was thrilled at what he had accomplished. He had prepared his lunch perfectly and even spruced it up with all the fixin’s. His meal and utensils were neatly organized on the table, and there were no messes in sight. He did great! I’m so proud of him.

Letting go is hard, and I’ve been holding on for way too long. I’ve used the fact that my son is autistic as an excuse to shelter him, to protect him. It wasn’t until last week that I realized this, or rather, that it was pointed out to me, and for that I am grateful. My son needs to grow. He needs to become self-reliant and the only way that he’ll learn, is by me letting go.

As a parent, letting go of your child and teaching them to become independent is something that no one can prepare you for. From their infancy, we nurture and protect them. Then what feels like suddenly, they become teenagers. We can still care for them and we should, but we have to learn to care from a distance.

We have to learn to let them learn on their own, no matter how many times they fall. That’s hard to do! However, it’s something we must do. Otherwise, we will sentence them to a future of dependency on others.

“Every human being is born with the potential to become the world’s most capable creature.” ~ Stephen Glenn and Jane Nelsen

What should we instill in our children so that they can become successful adults?

I found this list to be very helpful. It is referred to as the Significant Seven.

1. I am confident of my personal capability when faced with challenges.
2. I believe I am personally significant and make meaningful contributions.
3. I have a positive influence over my life; I take responsibility for my choices.
4. I have strong intrapersonal skills and I manage my emotions through self-awareness and self-discipline.
5. I have strong interpersonal skills and I am able to effectively communicate, negotiate, and empathize with others.
6. I am able to adapt with flexibility and integrity, I have strong systemic skills.
7. I have well developed judgment skills and able to make decisions with integrity.

If we instill those beliefs in our children, then their future will be built on a solid foundation. Isn’t that what we want for them? I do. My son can be, or do anything that he sets his mind to do. If I can continue to let go, then he’ll succeed.

In the meantime, I’m not going to lie. It’s still a game of tug of war. Everyday will be a new challenge, for both of us.

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24 Responses to Teaching Children to be Self-Reliant

  1. It’s amazing how sometimes our kids growing pains are actually OUR growing pains. Well done MeWhoAmI. He will help you do this. With every step HE takes, he’ll help you adapt to his growing abilities.


    • mewhoami says:

      Great way to put it. I’m certainly feeling those growing pains! With each of his successes, I think it’ll get easier and easier for me. It’s hard to walk away, but seeing the final product is so worth it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A.PROMPTreply says:

    Well done to both of you! It is a tough journey, but one with great benefits!


  3. I. Am. So. There. I’ve always said that my goal is to raise a child who can take care of himself and I think I’ve done a great job, but oh my goodness!! Actually letting go is not an easy thing to do!! Mr. T got a job today. Ask me how well I’m dealing!! Lol. 🙂 Good luck to you!


    • mewhoami says:

      From all that I’ve read, I would have to agree. You have done a great job! Congrats to him on his job! That is terrific! I can’t even imagine how you’re dealing, but when he comes home with the pride of a working man, you’ll be thrilled I’m sure, and prouder than ever.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Janelle says:

    I wish I could say it gets easier as they get older. Now that both of mine are surviving and thriving the last few years on their own, I can finally acknowledge how difficult it was to let them grow up and become independent beings. They are still my daughter and my son, but they are also young adults I admire and trust. In letting them go it feels like I brought them closer, allowing them to make their own mistakes and experience failure taught them I could be a source of advice and counsel rather than someone who would try to judge and take the reins away from them. It has turned into a healthy and positive relationship, one I treasure.


    • mewhoami says:

      I really like how you say that in letting them go, it brought your closer to them. That’s the key. To teach them, guide them and let them live for themselves, to flourish. They appreciate it and the trust that we have in their abilities and decisions. More importantly, that we will stand behind them and love them unconditionally. I highly respect the closeness that you all have. That is so very important.


  5. Glynis Jolly says:

    My son is grown now but I remember those days when I had to let him do things himself even though I was sure that he would do it wrong. Unlike you, my son wasn’t sweet and kind like yours. When I’d try to butt in, he’d yell, “Let’s me do it myself, Mom!”

    Give your son two extra brownie points for good attitude. 🙂


    • mewhoami says:

      That’s one of the hardest parts; letting them make mistakes even when we know that they will make them ahead of time. But, that’s how they learn the best. That’s how we all learn. At least your son was determined! 🙂 Thank you! He stays pretty calm when being taught, and for that I am very thankful.


  6. Thank you for this. I needed to hear it. My child’s severe Anxiety Disorder had her clinging to me for dear life for so long, and now that she is doing better, I am finding it very hard to let go of her. I tell myself in my head that she needs to learn to do for herself, I tell myself that she is capable of doing for herself, and then there I am, trying to guide her and help her. I need to learn to let go. She’s growing up so fast (12 now!) and as she struggles so hard to find her independence, I know I need to back off and let her learn. It sooo hard though!!


    • mewhoami says:

      You’re welcome. Your comment sums it up very nicely. It is terrifying to let go of them and let them learn for themselves. Like you, I know the capabilities are there, but as a mother it is so much easier and comforting to continue holding their hand. I think it’s wonderful though, that you’ve reached this point where you realize what you need to do, no matter how difficult it is and will be. It sure was so much easier when they were in diapers, wasn’t it? At least in this regard.

      I read a little on your two blogs before answering this. Thank you for popping over so I could find and follow you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah the good old days when she was in diapers and all was so very easy! 🙂
        She still struggles so much with the anxiety and the depression and the wanting to give up, that I just can’t help but want to still hold her hand. I know it is for her own good that I let her go…I’m trying. It ain’t easy!
        Thanks for reading on my blogs, too! Always much appreciated.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. DailyMusings says:

    Always a challenge. I still have to bite my tongue sometimes and remember my daughter is 31 and the mother of 3 kids of her own!


  8. April says:

    The hardest thing we have done is to step back and let them learn from their mistakes.


  9. Reblogged this on The Whimsical World of Mummy and commented:
    I find this is true of Little Man too. He is able to help dress himself but Hubby and I still want to do it. It has been very hard to step back and let him learn to be a Big Boy and do it himself.
    Some thought provoking words from Me – Who Am I?


  10. I reblogged this as I think its relevant to all ages. My Little Man is 3 year old (going on 13) and we have recently been working on him dressing himself in preparation for school. He can do more than we were letting him. It was incredibly hard to step back and let him try to do it himself.
    Well done to your Little Guy for not making a mess! My 35yr old husband hasnt managed that yet. 🙂


    • mewhoami says:

      Thank you so much for the reblog! You are right, that it is applicable at any age. Letting go is a process that we start when our children our very young. Every new change, every step toward teaching them independence can be a bit scary. It’s wonderful that you’re letting him learn to dress himself. Those times are fun. We never know what kind of outfit they’ll come out in. 🙂 But they learn and that’s a wonderful thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. cherokeewind says:

    I understand your angst, my 10 year old grandson has autism. He was diagnosed (not officially) a couple of years ago with Asperger’s Syndrome. Since the DSM-V changed the diagnoses guidelines during the time we were getting the official diagnosis, he is now classed as ASD – Level 1. He likes electronics as well. It’s amazing what he can remember about some things and be totally clueless about others. I have to make myself pull back and let him do what he needs to do regardless of the messes, they can be cleaned up. His mom is doing better with that than I am. Her biggest fear is how he’s going to deal with going into middle school next year. He will be 11 next month and in 5th grade, doing great academically. Teachers all say he has many friends at school, but I wonder exactly how many due to the fact that he only talks about 2 or 3.

    There is so much that he can accomplish. When he was at Vanderbilt a couple of weeks ago for some tests he told the nurses that he wants to be a doctor and help kids like he is. He often says he wants to do other things but has been going back to wanting to be a doctor more and more. One of the nurses asked him if he had any idea just how many doctors were that had Aspergers’/ Autism.

    I think as parents and grandparents we never stop blaming ourselves, we just learn to accept what happens. I have often wondered if his grandfathers (my x – his father’s father) exposure to Agent Orange in Viet Nam could have caused this. In doing research on the military I find that it could cause that and of course many, many other things.

    All we can do is keep loving and guiding and make sure they get what they need to make it.


    • mewhoami says:

      Being that he is high functioning, is a wonderful thing. That certainly opens up many more doors for him. Plus, having so many caring people around him will help so much with his success. They need that – a strong support system. It’s great that you are trying to pull back and let him learn to do things on his own. That is the only way that they can really learn. It can be difficult though.

      Going into middle school can be scary. I remember when my son first started. It was very intimidating, mainly because of the fear of the unknown. What will happen, how will the teachers be, will he make friends? But, he did great. Each new grade level has its new challenges, but with help from you, his mother, and teachers, I’m sure your grandson will do wonderful.

      It’s terrific that he wants to be a doctor! That is a great goal for a child to have and it will help to motivate him to keep going, to keep growing. You mentioned the Agent Orange possibly being a culprit. I’ve often wondered the same thing about chemicals, as I was crop-dusted by an airplane as a child. Could that be the cause? I don’t know. But, I do know that no matter what the cause is, I can’t change it. My son is who he is, and I am so grateful for his uniqueness. There is no one like him and he teaches me knew things constantly from the special way in which he sees the world. Thank you so much for your comment!


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