When you start wondering if it’s time to let your children experience some things on their own, it’s best to look at their development instead of their age, experts say.
Children need to be emotionally ready and mature enough for the responsibility. And parents need to consider their own comfort level with certain activities.
“A parent should always be consistent with their home boundaries, limits and rules, regardless of other parents’ opinions,” says Deborah Newell, Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) director for Parent-Child Center, a program funded by Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County.
For example, “many involved parents prefer to have children at their home for play dates and sleepovers, rather than having their child go to another home," Newell says. "For walking to school and waiting at the bus stop, a buddy system of at least two kids is preferred.”
Encourage self-esteem, self-confidence and trust
No matter their child’s age, parents can use teachable moments to build independence, Newell says.
For example, if your grade-schooler wants to go to a birthday party without you there, you should consider whether he or should knows how to behave in that kind of situation. Will she ask for help if she can't find the bathroom? Does he know to say please and thank you, and to be respectful of other adults?
If your teen wants to go to the mall with a friend, you may think about whether he knows how to talk to a sales clerk, or whether she knows how to avoid dangerous situations.
The key, experts at healthychildren.org say, is to watch first and consider what the world looks like from your child's perspective. Once you have a handle on that, you can teach them how to navigate life's challenges. Just be sure to balance independence with safety.
When it comes to kids and development, things change daily. Start by building on small steps that prompt problem-solving.
Maybe it's time to let your 6-year-old play at a friend's house without you there to handle any bickering. That's your call.
Or maybe it's time to let your 13-year-old take on a babysitting job. Again, your call.
Let your child take the lead, so you can see whether they're ready for more independence. Just be ready and available to step in to assist and guide your child if necessary.
"Positive and open communication is the key to staying involved, informed and supportive as issues and problems arise,” Newell says. “Work through the process together by giving the child the opportunity to explore and make educated decisions as they grow and mature. As the child experiences small accomplishments, they build to bigger accomplishments, and this builds confidence. When they experience failures, the parent is still a support system for the child, and this process also builds independence."
• Deborah Newell, Triple P program director, Parent-Child Center
• Amy Simpson, former executive director, Boys Town South Florida