Wednesday, January 15, 2020

56 Practical Tips for Raising Independent Kids

As a parent, what's your end goal? One thing I think about a lot is raising my kids to be independent. 

Of course, I want close relationships with my adult children, but that doesn't mean I want them texting me 20 times a day asking for their social security number or how to cook rice.

It's about more than not wanting to field those phone calls, though. I want my kids to grow up feeling happy, self-assured, and capable. I want them to have confidence in themselves and their own abilities.

The things is, that confidence only comes from experience. Young adults are never going to believe "I can do this" unless they've experienced their own competence many times throughout their lives.

I believe it starts as early as toddlerhood, and opportunities to practice this mindset are literally everywhere. If you want to raise more independent kids, or if you're struggling to picture how it might look in your family, feel free to try some of these ideas from ours:

Toddler and Preschooler

Whenever it's safe, kids under 5 should be given every opportunity possible to do things themselves and therefore begin thinking of themselves as capable people. They can:

  • Clean up their own spilled drinks and throw away their own food wrappers
  • Put away their shoes and coat in a designated place
  • Say 'thank you' for suckers at the bank or ask for a cookie at the bakery instead of you saying it for them
  • Tell you when it's safe to cross the street when you're walking together
  • Learn to advocate for themselves in disputes with other kids
  • Make sandwiches and help with simple food prep
  • Pick out their own clothes in the morning and dress themselves
  • Clear their places at the table and pick up their own toys
  • Do regular household chores (ideas for specific tasks by age here)
  • Learn to identify employees in public places and how to ask for help if they get lost
In addition, things your toddler regularly uses (dishes, clothes, toys) should be stored within his reach so he can take them out and put them away himself.

Elementary Schooler

By kindergarten, most kids are ready for a lot more autonomy than we give them credit for. Most elementary-school aged kids can independently: 

  • Pack their own lunches (even kindergartners)
  • Keep track of their own special dress-up days at school
  • Check the weather to determine how they should dress in the morning
  • Order for themselves at a restaurant when the server comes to them
  • Be in charge of bringing everything they need for sports practices or extracurricular activities (and putting it away afterward!)
  • Look up a friend's number and call them instead of having you text/email their friend's parents to arrange playdates
  • Do their own homework and ask for help if they get stuck
  • Wait at the bus stop alone without an adult
  • Handle transactions at the post office or grocery store while you are standing there
  • Stay home alone at age 8 and babysit younger siblings at age 10
  • Ride bikes around the neighborhood without you
  • Learn to cook simple meals
  • Learn to sew on a button
  • Address and mail envelopes
  • Get a screwdriver and change batteries that need replacing
  • Do their own laundry (ours do their own by age 8, but they can help younger than this)
  • Look at a map and give you directions (even if you already know how to get there)
  • Own a watch and learn to follow instructions like "come home at 6" or "be ready to go at 4:30"
  • Walk in front of you and navigate public spaces (finding the bathroom at the mall or directing you to your gate at the airport)

It's okay once in a while, but if your kid gets in the habit of calling you for forgotten homework or lunch too often it's perfectly acceptable to say, "That stinks! I really wish I could bring it to you today but I'm afraid I can't." They'll be much better about remembering it after that happens a few times, I promise.


The tween years (which I think of as being between the years of 10 and 12) are really exciting ones. It's starting to feel like these little people you made are extremely helpful and capable! At these ages, kids are generally able to:

  • Get themselves up in the morning
  • Check in at their own dentist and doctor appointments
  • Write their events on the family calendar
  • Research things on the Internet for you
  • Fill out their own back-to-school paperwork and tell you where to sign
  • Visit and order from the restaurant of their choice in the mall food court (give them $15 and meet them at a table)
  • Independently go anywhere within walking/biking distance
  • Bike or walk to the library after school
  • Be dropped off at a pizza place or movie theater with friends and no adults
  • Ride public transportation alone, after they've learned how to do it with you
  • Mail a package, pick up your library holds, or buy a gallon of milk while you wait in the car
  • Open a bank account (we go with our kids to open one around age 12)

This is also a fun time for them to consult with you on projects around the house, like redecorating a room or planning a family vacation. Let them take a lead role in researching and budgeting, and you'll find they actually have some pretty good ideas.


By the time kids turn 13 or 14, things get rolling really fast. Your teenager is well over halfway to legal adulthood and it's more important than ever that they're ready to handle those responsibilities by themselves. Teens should be able to:

  • Make their own appointments for haircuts
  • Register themselves online for sports, pay school activity fees, order a yearbook, etc.
  • Email their teachers with questions or issues instead of relying on you to do it
  • Look at medicine bottles to find dosage information
  • Decide their own bedtimes (although it's perfectly acceptable to set house rules about phone use, etc, after a certain hour)
  • Know how to write checks and use a credit card
  • Find a recipe, buy the ingredients, and make a meal from start to finish without help
  • Pay bills by phone that pertain to them (using your credit card, with your permission)
  • Comparison shop for something you need in store or online and buy the better deal
  • Apply for a job and manage their own paychecks
  • Handle their own banking transactions
  • Be in charge of budgeting their own pocket money for non-essential expenses
  • Maintain the car they drive and help pay for gas
  • Manage their own grades, with parents only checking at midterms and the end of the year
  • If going to college, handle most of the application process asking for help when needed

With so much responsibility on their plates, make it clear to your teens that you expect them to recognize when they need help and ask for it. Letting problems snowball because no one was checking up on them is not okay.

If you're not sure your teenager is ready for a new responsibility, let her try it for a little while to see how it goes. You can always scale back if needed, but sometimes she might surprise you!

A Final Word on Independence

I know I've provided you with a checklist of life skills kids can work on mastering by age, but don't get me wrong: real independence is more than just a list of what your kid does and doesn't know how to do.

Whether or not your kids how to clean a bathtub by the time they leave home doesn't matter nearly as much as whether they've learned to think of themselves as capable people. Because capable people can look at the dirty bathtub and say, "I don't know how to do this, but I know I can figure it out."

That, to me, is real independence.

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PurpleSlob said...

Some of thes had me saying, "What??" But I agree with the majority. If we don't let the kids have responsibility, while we're there to help. They are going to be clueless, helpless, and a danger to themselves! Thanks for the reminder that our job is to raise them to be independent!

Pamela said...

I agree with most of it. Sadly, depending on your location, and because of the world we live in now, I’m too paranoid to let my tween/teen daughters do too much in public without some supervision or protection. Do you worry about human trafficking? I wouldn’t leave my tween daughter alone and I don’t let my teen daughter drive to errands solo after dark. When I was a kid I could ride my bike 2 miles to the gas station and buy ice cream at 10 years. :(

Jenny Evans said...

Pamela: Of course you need to adapt circumstances to your area, but I always try to use actual risk to inform my parenting decisions. Violent crime has actually declined since we were kids so the world is no less safe; the only thing that has changed is our access to the news. Most people think of the world as very dangerous because of the news, but if you look around at your actual community it's probably safer than you think.

As tragic as human trafficking is, it's also statistically rare that any kid will be kidnapped by a stranger. Most kidnappings are done by family members in custody disputes. Unless they're wandering around really bad parts of town which probably isn't a good idea, most strangers our kids will encounter are like you and me - nice people who don't want to hurt or kidnap children and are busy going about their own lives.

Ann-Marie Ulczynski said...

In my state, we aren't legally allowed to leave a child home alone until age 10. This list has given me some good things to think about. Public transportation isn’t even something we have the opportunity to use. But as for running in to pick up books on hold? I started that at age 6! Love our librarians!