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Is it just me, or do we really glorify our children being independent?

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about since I had a child. And something I keep seeing play out in a whole bunch of different ways with families I talk to.

One reflection I’ve had over the past decade of working in education and in supporting young people and parents is that so many expectations are moving earlier and earlier. During my time working in a school (in QLD), pre school became prep, and year 7 became part of high school. But most challenging for me was hearing how quickly the language shifted when talking about these things.

“𝘠𝘰𝘶’𝘳𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘗𝘳𝘪𝘮𝘢𝘳𝘺 𝘚𝘤𝘩𝘰𝘰𝘭 𝘯𝘰𝘸, 𝘴𝘰 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘴𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘣𝘦 𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘴𝘪𝘵 𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘭𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘯” (said to the Prep’s, who have somewhat arbitrarily just become primary students)

“𝘠𝘰𝘶’𝘳𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘩𝘪𝘨𝘩 𝘴𝘤𝘩𝘰𝘰𝘭 𝘯𝘰𝘸, 𝘴𝘰 𝘸𝘦 𝘦𝘹𝘱𝘦𝘤𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘴𝘦𝘦 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘣𝘦𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘦 𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘱𝘰𝘯𝘴𝘪𝘣𝘭𝘦, 𝘮𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘪𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘱𝘦𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘯𝘵” (said to the Year 7’s, who just a year before, would have been getting support and coaching through their transition to high school)

So the result is that now Kindy is preparation for Primary School and Year 6 is preparation for high school (yes, I’m aware this has been the case in other states for some time). As a result, we are increasing expectations of our children by expecting more from them at a younger age.

And I think this really shows our views on the parenting of toddlers.

I often hear a sense from parents wanting a toddler to be able to be more independent. And that when they are, there is a celebration of this. Now that is not necessarily problematic. It is the next bit that bothers me. Which is that once they have acquired an ability to do something, we take our hands off the wheel (or the circle if you like thinking in Circle of Security concepts) and start to expect our child to be able to manage this task independently, ongoing.

Just because a child is capable of a thing, doesn’t mean they should be doing that thing unsupported.

A perfect example is cooperative social play. As toddlers get older, they move from playing alongside peers to playing WITH peers. They have the social skills to be able to navigate cooperative play, including developing a game together, negotiating rules and overcoming challenges. But not all the time. In fact, now is the MOST important time for us to be really hands-on with supporting them with how they take these newly developed skills and guide and coach them through it. They STILL need a lot of support to communicate, regulate, advocate and problem-solve. So while they are capable of independent, cooperative play, they are not capable of repeated, high-quality independent cooperative play. And by misunderstanding their readiness for independence, we trade off a really awesome opportunity to support their growth for a bit of a false assumption that they’ve got this and don’t need us around.

Does that mean you have to follow them around and intervene all the time? No way! As an aside, this is a really common thinking trap that people do with parenting – assuming that making a change needs to be in the extreme opposite direction. Being hands-on doesn’t mean you need to always actively be doing something. Being present and engaged might mean just being within earshot of them playing. It might mean watching them navigate the situation and where needed, providing the smallest possible bump in the right direction so they can continue on. This is scaffolded independence. It doesn’t mean being all in or all out. You are providing the least amount of help that they need so that they can continue to learn and grow.

𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗱𝗼 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝗻𝗸? 𝗗𝗼 𝘄𝗲 𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗿-𝘃𝗮𝗹𝘂𝗲 𝗶𝗻𝗱𝗲𝗽𝗲𝗻𝗱𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲 𝗶𝗻 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗸𝗶𝗱𝘀?

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At ConnectEd Counselling and Consultancy, we believe that all families, and the communities they belong to, benefit from a little extra care and support. Whether the problems are big or small, we want to make sure everyone has the chance to feel connected – to themselves, to others and to their community. We offer counselling services to young people and families and have immediate availability. If you need some support, get in touch here:

(Written by: Dr Matt O’Connor)

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