As your children grow older, they will need to be given more responsibilities to ease them into the idea of being in charge of, and responsible for parts of their lives until they finally step out from under your wing and become responsible for themselves and their own lives in their entirety. But doing this needs to be a gradual process to allow your children to get used to the responsibility slowly and ensure they don’t get drunk with the idea of the resulting freedom.
But acclimatising your child to the autonomy and trust you’ll need to give them towards the end of their childhood is a gradual process many parents aren’t sure how to approach. Here’s a handy guide to figuring out what’s appropriate for your kids.
The most important thing to bear in mind throughout the process is that not every child develops at the same rate. You’ll want to tailor the process to your specific child and then re-adapt it for any subsequent children. Many parents also find that, with their first child, they are more reluctant to give away freedoms which come a bit more easily with subsequent children as they learn that letting go does not mean the end of the world.
A good way to keep track of your kids when they get more autonomy is by giving them a mobile telephone. This allows you to reach them and them to reach you. It’s obviously not the best idea to give your children a contract telephone and deal with the towering bills as they come in, but a Pay As You Go phone with a monthly budget is a great idea. Make sure they have a collect-call number in their phone book in case they need to reach you and have no credit left to contact you. Agree on times when you will be calling them, and have strict rules – at least initially – about answering your calls, which is a prerequisite for the freedom they want to achieve. Make sure you have some rules about leaving the phone on during class hours, too, as mobile phones are often disruptive during classes.
When you start off teaching a child how to be outside on their own and be safe, walking home from school alone is a great place to start. If your child has any friends living nearby, try to liaise with their mothers so they can walk home together, looking out for each other all the way. This can make it a lot safer as groups of children are not frequently targeted by predators. The downside is horseplay, but if you feel the route home from school is too long for your child to navigate safely even with other kids his or her age present, you can organise it so you meet up halfway home and walk together the rest of the way. From walking home alone you can gradually build to shopping trips alone and onwards from there.
Taking it easy when giving more responsibility to your children is difficult, and it can be really disorienting to know when you should do what. The fact of the matter is that taking it slow is more important than timing, and if you take the first step at roughly the right time, you’ll find the rest falls into place quite neatly and before you know it.