Posted on

Needy or Normal? Nurturing Independent Kids, Realistically!

Today’s ponderings are inspired by a social media debate I’ve been following, re; what to do about children being over-reliant on their exhausted parents.

This particular issue was related to young children falling asleep by themselves, but the bigger picture is there for all of us; “When should I be doing X, Y, Z for my child and when should they take over? When should it stop being my job and start being theirs?”

It can off-the-scale frustrating when our kids make demands on us that feel unreasonable, especially when they’re perfectly capable but it’s just easier to ask mum or dad to get their drink, help them dress, or find the stuff they’ve lost (because ‘putting it back’ was also a stretch too far…)

It’s a very fine line between nurturing independence, teaching accountability, and still being physically and emotionally available for our kids.  

Just using this sleep thing as an example, because most of us have been in that space of ‘desperately need time on our own with a child that will not go to sleep’.

But most of the stress around ‘go to sleep (and stay asleep!)‘ is based on the idea that little children ‘should’ be able to go to sleep by themselves, or ‘self- soothe’, because society says so, and because other children do.

And while that’s true, children are not biologically designed that way.
Human beings are the only mammalian species on the planet which doesn’t sleep with their babies.

I’m not saying we should have all co-slept from day one; there’s safely implications, as well as needing our own space to consider; but equally, many cultural expectations have totally removed us from the way that Mother Nature intended our children to develop.

I am a massive advocate for nurturing independent kids, and it’s a bone of contention for me that the societal expectations that tells a mum that she’s wrong for staying with her child while until he’s asleep will also educate him in a system that gives him virtually no autonomy at all; what he’ll learn, when, where, who with, what he’ll wear, when he’ll eat etc., will all be determined for him.

Hence why nurturing independence is so important, and the self-belief in our kids that they have ‘personal power’.

So how do we cultivate that when we’ve got neediness at one end on the spectrum, and quite frankly, laziness at the other?
Here are three perspectives to at least hold in mind…

1) Their Truth Is Their Truth
It’s too easy to only see a child being ‘needy’ as making a fuss over nothing, or being ridiculous etc.
Valid a perspective as yours may be, it doesn’t diminish the intensity of the experience for the child; their fear or anxiety may be very, very real.
Starting with empathy; recognising and meeting the need first; makes life gets easier for you both, instantly.

2) Hold Them Accountable
This has to be done in an age appropriate way of course, and I’m not saying you MUST insist children do everything for themselves every time, once they can; we all like a bit of nurturing, a favour, an act of kindness for its own sake.

But holding kids accountable if often harder than it should be, because it so easily leads to warfare. It’s not easy but you can opt out of that bit.

The trailblazer’s for ‘unconditional parenting’ may disagree with me here, but IMO there’s nothing wrong with a realistic condition, especially where a natural consequence like “If we’re not willing to brush our teeth, then sweets aren’t a good idea” can be used to help our children think in more cause-and-effect terms.

Play to Their Strengths
The ‘strengths-based’ approach is a seriously overlooked opportunity when it comes to encouraging children to work with, and not against you.
Everybody does and feels better when they feel capable, so putting all our focus on what they should or shouldn’t do better or more of (valid as that may be) can be counter-productive.

At least balance those things out with where they are flourishing. ‘What’ this is really doesn’t matter; helping you to remember something, paying at the shop, checking the road for traffic; every little thing you can do to help strengthen that sense of competence will help them grow.
And acknowledge every win, because they might not recognise their own strengths without your input.

Even better if you have a job title to go with it; being appointed as “Kitchen Assistant” or “Health & Safety Officer” can be a little bit of fun that transforms children’s willingness to do their share.

They might not be having the most fun, but it can still do powerful work; this is where there is room to grow 🌱

Insights like these land straight in your mailbox when you’re signed up to our list!

Click below AND get our FREE pdf “5 Truths About Your Child’s Brain You Wish Someone Had Told You Before!”