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Tuesday, 21 May 2013 16:43

Lead your Children on the Journey from Dependence to Independence

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In some cases children have become more independent but, studies show that they have regressed in social skills and in the “people skills” necessary to establish and maintain relationships with other children and adults. Several years ago the concept of “group dating” was unheard of.  Today, group dating is a way to boost one’s self-confidence so as to feel more comfortable in a setting where most people are unknown to them.

While this may be a good temporary solution, it is a crutch. After all, if successful, one would eventually break free from the group and date in the casual sense - two people only.  Then what?  How does one start or stay engaged in conversation?

The solution is teaching them the merits of independent thought and action.  The parenting process is all about guiding and supporting our children on the journey from dependence to independence, because the essence of parental mentorship is modeling and teaching your child how to be a responsible, adult.  Moreover, this strategy applies seamlessly and with equal efficiency not only at home but in the workplace as well.

Like most things, leadership and cognitive thinking begin at birth and originate at home. Fostering a sense of curiosity allows you a wonderful opportunity to influence your child. You have a chance to share your knowledge in the form of instruction instead of correction, so that it can be considered, adapted, acted upon. That’s increasingly important as a child grows. In the early years, parents can control nearly every influence, whether it is television, music, Internet access, or even the friends with whom they play.  Later, they will be exposed to all sorts of things, and you want them to come to you when they have questions. Saying “Because I told you so,” too many times is like saying, “Ask someone else” or “Find out some other way.” It is a fact of life that children will then ask someone else or find out another way, and at that point you will have lost your opportunity to influence your child. Worse yet, you will have no way of judging the validity of that information, or correcting misinformation.

So how do you foster independence?  Give them choices within parameters that you have set according to your comfort level, your family values, and other factors that are important to you.  The sky is not the limit here.  The goal is twofold.  On the one hand you want them to engage and commit to a choice from your carefully selected menu, and on the other, they need to feel that they have a voice and that their opinions and feeling do matter and they are considered.

Here is an example from my early parenting years.  When my daughter was about 5, she and her mother fought nearly every morning about what she would wear to school. She was not asking to wear clothes that didn’t match or were inappropriate for the weather or the occasion. Yet her mother insisted on picking her clothes every day, leading to much shouting and tears.  A bad way to start the day for parent and child.  “Why don’t you just give her a limited number of outfits that you find appropriate, and let her pick one for each school day?” I suggested to her mom. “You could put them all in one drawer so she could go through that drawer and make her choice.” We tried that, and all of a sudden she was excited about what she would be wearing that day. I have known other parents who find similar success with picky eaters, allowing the children to participate in menu planning ahead of time.  Admitting that something isn’t working doesn’t make you a failure as a parent: It sets you up for success.

Teenagers present different challenges. Again, giving them calculated choices fosters independence. That is when the lessons from Socrates come in handy.  The Socratic method of teaching requires debate. It forces both student and teacher (parent and child) to back up their hypotheses with supporting evidence, and trains the mind to search for inconsistencies. It demands much more in-depth thinking than the “instruction and regurgitation” method popular in schools today. When we employ this method in parenting, we are showing our kids that we believe our point of view can stand on its merits, not just our authority.

This becomes increasingly important as our children grow older. In the spring of my daughter’s junior year of high school, she had a boyfriend whom I’ll call Troy. Troy was not a bad kid, but he was not particularly motivated. He was a couple of years older than my daughter, and was taking a few classes at the local community college while working. By my evaluation, his choices in life had been consistently less than ideal. Needless to say, I was not thrilled with the relationship. My daughter was not quite an adult; however, I knew that insisting that she end the relationship would do no good. I also knew she was not anxious to leave him to go away to college and that their attachment to each other might become a real obstacle to her future success. I pondered all this on a daily basis while saying very little.

One morning, after all her college applications had been submitted, she approached me tentatively. “Dad,” she said, “I think I want to take a year off before going to college.” “Why?” I asked. “Well, I’m just really stressed out with my work at school. I feel like I need a break from being a full-time student.” I knew she just didn’t want to leave Troy behind, but I did not say this. “I think that’s a marvelous idea” I said. “This is probably the only time in your life when you can take a year off without worrying about it.” I said nothing more, observing that she was surprised by my response. “OK,” she continued. “I was thinking that I would take a few classes at community college and work part-time in retail.”

p-dad college-graduation may-2009 “I see,” I replied. “But, that’s not really an option for a year off. This is a wonderful opportunity for expanding your horizons by serving others. I propose you decide between joining the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps.” She was stunned. She looked at me as if I had grown a second head! I explained to her what each organization did, how any of the colleges to which she got accepted would happily defer her admission for a year, and offered to help her apply to either program.

When she protested, we entered a brief discussion of the merits of her plan versus mine. She could not say that I was being inflexible, because I fully supported her idea of taking a year off. She was forced to defend her plan against a better one, instead of preserving her right to forgo college for a year. In the end, she went off to her four-year institution quite happily, leaving Troy behind.

Our key to success as parents is to guide our children from a happy childhood to a productive adulthood, and that requires that we lead them to make choices that are appropriate for their station in life.

This is my opinion. It worked for me and it can work for you. You just have to try it!

Chris Efessiou

About Chris Efessiou:  Chris Efessiou is an entrepreneur, business leader, educator, mentor, international speaker, radio show host, and best-selling author of CDO Chief Daddy Officer: The Business of Fatherhood  based on his own experience from raising his daughter as a single dad by applying his business knowledge to the business of parenting.  Listen to Chris’s weekly Radio Show Straight Up With Chris:  Real Talk on Business and Parenthood on Voice America Radio.  You may connect with Chris on Facebook, follow on Twitter and visit

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