5 steps to independent teenagers
Imagine a world where your teenager picks up their socks, cleans their room, does homework without you asking them and has an organised plan for their day. It may not surprise you to know that habits don't just come out of nowhere. People don't live lives of chaos and then magically lead organised, prioritised lives when they go to secondary school, university or their first job. The greatest gift you can give your teenager and yourself is an investment in your child's ability to make choices for themselves and structure their own lives.
My top tips for creating an independent teenager are:
1. Start Early
Think of your role as their coach not just their care-taker. You are empowering them to fully take responsibility for their own lives. A toddler can already work with you to put toys away, clear tables and help in the kitchen. You'll find they enjoy the responsibility and messing up isn't a barrier, because they'll keep trying anyway.
2. Be patient
Yes you could do the washing up, room cleaning, laundry and chores more efficiently than them but why is that? You've had years of practice that's why! If you want to share the load in the future, start now. Stand alongside them while they clear the table, get their school stuff ready for the next day and get organised about their homework. If you do it for them you rob them of the opportunity to learn.
Rather than rewarding children for chores build a culture of teamwork in your home. This culture says that they are part of the whole family and we each have responsibility for each other. Negotiation is key to teamwork, ensuring everyone's skills are used to the best of their ability and that everything that is important gets done. You can then relax and enjoy leisure time because you've earned it together.
4. Let them plan the order
You may have a clear idea of what should be done first and what should be done next when really the important thing is that everything gets done with some time for leisure and relaxation. If you've picked the kids up from school and are walking or driving, rather than tell them exactly what's happening, you might say 'so how much homework have you got'...they then assess how long it might take for them to do it...You say 'what else is important for you to do today before being able to chill out?' They might say, 'wash hands, eat dinner etc'...You then have an opportunity to add any items you think are necessary i.e. have a shower, clean your room. You then ask them 'ok so can you let me know which bits you'll do first and which ones next?' This is where it gets interesting because each child's personality is different but again, the important thing is that everyone knows what is expected of them and is able to follow through. My son would easily say 'I'll do my homework first, have my shower, eat dinner and then watch TV before bed'. My daughter on the other hand would say 'can I watch TV for 20 minutes and have a snack, then I'll do my homework, have a bath and dinner and read before bed'.
They both know what needs to get done but they are allowed to be creative in how they go about getting it done. This teaches self-discipline and that its not about fitting into the box I set for them, it's about setting out an order that works for you and making sure you fit in some relaxation at the end of the day. With conscious planning being done beforehand you have taught them the skills of planning and you also have more leverage when things aren't getting done 'So I remember the plan was to do these things first, what's changed?'
5. Be present
Supporting your child or teenager to make a plan that suits them allows them to feel supported, listened to and trusted. Once the plan is in place teach them by example to be present and enjoy the journey. The greatest learning they will get on this topic is observing you being in the moment - it's not what you say its what you do that has the most impact.
Learn about a Growth vs Fixed mindset - the ability to learn from mistakes and keep trying. A fixed mindset crumbles at the first hurdle. The greatest gift we can give our children is a sense of self that is strong enough to withstand messing up. After all, we need to mess up in order to get good at something and you'll be giving them a head-start by allowing all the opportunities within their lives to learn as they grow.