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Empowering Independence: Why Not Doing Everything for Your Children Matters

As parents, it's natural to want to make life easier for our little ones. Whether it's tying shoelaces, tidying rooms, or buttering toast, the temptation to step in and do things for them, is huge! Often, it's quicker, more efficient, and ensures things are done "the right way." Or so we think….

I'm Anika, the founder of Mummy Made This, a business dedicated to inspiring creativity in children and fostering a supportive community of parents navigating the twists and turns of parenthood together.

Today, I want to delve into a topic that hits close to home for many of us: the importance of not doing everything for our children, no matter how tempting! It's been something that I've been working on: to just stop doing some of the things for them and allowing them to do things in their own time, their own space, in their own way! 😊

For those of you who know about the respectful parenting ethos and methodology, you will have heard all about this. This principle of working with your child and fostering teamwork and independence as part of that.

But what does this actually mean in practice? And why is it so important to allow them to do things for themselves to support their growth and sense of autonomy and independence?

  1. Sharing Household Responsibilities: 

In our household, my husband and I found ourselves overwhelmed with chores while our children remained passive observers. It was a cycle that left us feeling drained and disconnected as a family. 

So, we created a list of age-appropriate tasks for our children to tackle. The main things on there were things like: set the table, clear the table, feed your gerbils, put away your clothes, tidy your room at the end of the day (or week), brush your teeth in the morning and get ready for school. The agreement was that they do as many of the things as possible and tick them off their chart. And then, at the end of the week, we’d add up what had been done and then top their pocket money up based on how much they’d been able to contribute that week. 

And that worked really, really well at the beginning – especially for my middle one. I think of all three children, she thrives on order and being really clear on what is expected of her and being able to achieve that. So, she would make her bed, get dressed independently and come down to set the table. I think for her the satisfaction she got out of ‘being organised’ was what really motivated her, rather than the added pocket money. 

For my little one, it was more the satisfaction of being able to get a ‘tick’ that motivated him, as well as then being able to top up his pocket money to go out at the weekends to buy himself, a little treat, like some football cards and have autonomy to do that. 

For my eldest, the ticks and the pocket money weren’t actually that effective. I don't think he was that bothered by actually doing some of those, chores. But interestingly, when the tick list, sort of fizzled out, he became really good at taking responsibility for being on time for school and having his homework done on time. It was as if ‘practicing’ this with a list and a tracking system helped all three work out their own inner motivation of feeling good about themselves, being on time, and working as a team. 

It shifted to a sense of internal satisfaction and that empowerment that comes from being able to genuinely contribute to the family. 

  1. Room Tidying: 

Tidying up after a day of play can feel like an uphill battle, especially when faced with resistance from reluctant helpers…. and I have found that still often I will just get on and put their stuff away at the end of the day. I just do it because it's quicker, and means less of a battle. You know, you can just dump all the cars in the box, quickly pick up and fold the clothes and you are pretty much done… but you’ve done the work yourself and my child has not been part of that (again!) 

So, the other day, when I watched my sister (who is a child psychologist) with her calm yet firm approach to tidying up with her children (and mine) inspired me to keep trying...

She set clear expectations and lead by example, turning tidying into a cooperative endeavour filled with some giggles and fun along the way. So, whenever the children would wander off and get distracted, she’d bring them back and say something like: ‘No we're tidying now. Come on, let's do it together. I can help, too.’ And then she would do a little bit and start them off and they would get into it and get on with it, and she’d be able to take a step back again. Constantly providing gentle guidance while instilling a sense of ownership in the children. There was no telling off or shouting, just genuine team work and a sense of collaboration and achievement at the end!

  1. Encouraging Self-Help Skills: 

From buttering toast to solving problems, allowing our children to navigate tasks independently is a powerful form of empowerment. 

By resisting the temptation to rescue and jump in, and letting them actually do it for themselves I see so often that huge sense of pride that spreads through them! 

And this is true for all three of my children – no matter what age or stage they are at. So, for my middle one, she loves that sense of achievement and empowerment so much that she will even tell me to just leave her be, while she gets dressed, or sets the table and then, when she is done, she presents me with the final result full of pride! And it is wonderful to see!

And I guess that was true when they were little babies or toddlers too – maybe doing puzzles or learning to walk. Yes, we could have just rescued and jumped in and done the puzzle pieces for them because of course we know how to do the puzzle. But that would have totally missed the point of allowing them to find their own way; watching them and encouraging them to find the solution for themselves. 

The same is true for learning to read. The other day, my youngest who's learning to read was struggling with a word and I was getting really tempted to just help him and tell him what the answer is. Very quickly he got really frustrated with me, telling me: ‘No, no, Mommy, just let me let me do it!’  

And the same with my tween – when he comes back from school and tells me he’s had a tricky day, the temptation is to jump in and suggest to him what to do. But that tends to shut him down. Whereas if I resist that edge and just say: ‘Oh, that sounds really tricky. What are you what you going to do about it?’ And allow that space for him to explore that with me, it’s so much more powerful. If he gets stuck, I can always offer advice if he wants it, but often he doesn't want it and the solution is right there within him. 

At its core, not doing everything for our children is about fostering independence, resilience, and self-esteem. It's about recognizing that our role as parents is not to shield our children from challenges but to equip them with the skills and confidence to face them head-on. Witnessing their pride and sense of achievement reinforces the value of autonomy and self-reliance and helps them believe in themselves – that they do have the tools, capabilities and solutions to work through tricky situations. And that they have an adult to support them with that rather than do it for them!

So, the next time I’m tempted to tie that shoelace or tidy that room, I am going to pause for a moment. And consider the long-term benefits of allowing my child to take the reins – even if it’s hard! Let’s embrace the messiness of growth, the beauty of learning, and the joy of watching our children blossom into capable, confident individuals. 😊


Founder, Mommy Made This

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