I came across a chapter the book The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting by Dr. Laurence Steinberg, called Help Foster Your Child’s Independence. It immediately caught my eye because I feel like growing up my father did just this, helped me to become an independent thinker and woman. He points out many ways we can help our children become independent adults but I will share what I have found to be the most significant. As parents we can all agree that when we send our children into the real world we will want them to be able to stand up for themselves, on their own two feet, and make good choices.
Fathers helping their children become independent people:
The first suggestion Steinberg gives to parents, but specifically to dads is to pick your battles. We all want our children to make good choices when we are not around. Before a child can learn to do that, we must give them the tools to do so. We need to give them the confidence that they can make choices on their own while in the home. When we become parents we need to be okay with the choices they choose that don’t have a lasting impact. An example would be which movie to watch with his friends (within reason) or to leave the house in an uncoordinated outfit, even wearing his hair longer than you would like. Things like these will give our children the sense that they can make choices for themselves. Hopefully by gaining this confidence they will be able to make the right choice when it really matters. This is why we need to pick our battles and not fight or argue with every detail that they decide for themselves. Children gain a significant amount of their sense of independence from their fathers so it’s important that dad’s don’t get on his children’s case about the trivial things.
Another reason why fathers are so important in children’s lives is because they can help analytically think through a decision. Men, typically speaking, are analytical thinkers and can help children see things through a less emotional point of view. Although it is important that father’s don’t make all decisions for his children, he can certainly help guide into a direction that is most beneficial. An example of this would be helping his son or daughter decide where to take a summer job, or where to apply to college. Yes, the decision is ultimately up to the child, but a father can be persuasive and helpful. Weighing out pros and cons, opportunity costs and providing a realistic sense of reality. Consequences and what life will look like after decisions are made.
Steinberg hones in on the importance of ones emotional development as a child through his or her dad. It is important that our children truly understand that we are there for them emotionally. This comes more naturally for mothers because again, typically speaking, mothers are more nurturing and emotional. It is important that daughters develop a sense of security that only a father can provide through emotional security. The first relationship a girl ever has with a man is with her father; this is where she will learn all the different temperaments of a man. This is why it is it crucial for a father to be aware of his daughters’ needs and emotions. Being able to get on her level, talk and relate will set up a young girl for success when she is ready for various relationships with men. It is equally as important for a father to teach his son that men have emotions too, that as a man they are allowed to talk about how they feel without degradation.
“Parents are often unnecessarily directive when it comes to their children’s eating habits, play preferences, friendships, and free time (Steinberg 119). The author here is saying that we cannot micromanage our children. What difference does it make if he eats his carrots before his chicken, or her and her friends don’t follow all the rules to a game, or plays with the weird kid at school? This goes back to choices; we must allow our children to make their own decisions when they are relatively meaningless. Steinberg points out that this is not only for the child sake but for the parents’ as well. Everyday tasks and even recreation would become significantly less enjoyable if we were always jumping down our children’s throats. He explains a rule of thumb, are you correcting your child for your sake or the child’s? If we seriously consider this request it would put an end to micromanaging, allowing children to explore their own creativity more thoroughly.
The last but certainly not the least important thing Steinberg suggests is to not constantly tell your children “no”, for no good reason of course. He has a checklist to consider when children ask permission on doing something. 1. Is what my child wants to do dangerous? 2. Is what my child wants to do unhealthy? 3. Is what my child wants to do illegal or immoral? 4. Is what my child wants to do likely to lead to trouble? And 5. If something goes wrong, are irreparable or difficult to undo? If the answer to all these questions are no, then he challenges us to say yes. We shouldn’t limit our children’s experiences for no reason. It’s important that fathers allow their children to get out there and face challenges, altercations and controversy. It may be in a father’s instinct to protect his children from the world but without a wide range of experiences and getting acquainted with combat they will never learn to stick up for themselves, be who they are and voice their opinions.