Raising Self Reliant Kids
Beyonce sang about independent women, and some of us talk about being independent women with such a sense of pride. If you are a parent, you probably want to raise your children, male or female, to be independent. But do you know what exactly it means to be an independent person? Is that really what you want for your child, or something else all together? My friend Ciru, a mother to a six-year-old boy sheds some light on her experience, or lack thereof.
It’s 7am Tuesday morning and we are running late for school. My 6-year-old son Njoroge is still at the table chewing his oatmeal as he would tough pieces of meat, and it is driving me mad. I then figure that if at all he was hungry, he would eat faster. So I ask him to put his breakfast away and brush his teeth. He brings his bowl to the kitchen and strolls to the bathroom while I fix him his snacks for the day. When I’m done, I head to the bathroom and guess what, he is still not done brushing his teeth! As my frustration rises, I grab his toothbrush and finish the job for him despite his resistance. I quickly brush his hair and we run out, barely making it to school on time.
This script plays out quite often in our house, but on this particular day, it bothers me more than usual. So much so, it leaves me thinking about the many men (friends and acquaintances alike) I have met in my adult life, men who cannot make decisions without consulting their mothers, men who cannot make themselves a cup of tea, or clean up after themselves. Could these men be the result of mothers who acted as I did, mothers who out of frustration took over the bed making, dressing, teeth brushing and forgot for a moment that those were key learning moments missed? I wonder that perhaps, my very actions are what would cause Njoroge to join this growing list of irresponsible men.
As soon as I get to the office, I power up my laptop and look up “How to raise independent children” and end up reading various articles on the same. It turns out that an independent person is an individual who is free from outside control, one who is not subject to authority. I interpret this to mean someone who imagines they are above the law, and this takes me aback. I have always thought that being an independent person is an admirable trait. My whole life has been a lie!
And so I ask myself if this is the man I want to raise Njoroge to be, someone who defies authority. Can anyone really be fully independent? I think naturally, human beings are dependent on one thing or another, and switch between the people/things they are dependent on based on the circumstances at hand. No man is an island after all. If my son is not dependent on me, then he will find someone; most likely his peers or worse, pop culture in this social media age to depend on.
So, I read some more and learn that what I actually want for my son is not so much about independence but more to do with self-reliance. The two may have some subtle similarities but they are quite different and it is these differences that I want to manifest in my son.
A self-reliant individual is one who is confident in his own abilities and is able to do things for himself. A self-reliant person is one who possesses the following abilities or life tools:
- Cognitive skills: ability to gather information, analyse it, consult who he needs to consult and ultimately make a decision;
- Emotional capabilities: ability to handle different emotions and seek out the help that one needs to deal with what they are going through;
- Behavioural skills: ability to exercise self-disciplined in whatever they do to achieve success;
- Interpersonal skills: these are social skills- being a team player, a good communicator etc;
- Practical skills: possessing the ability to care for oneself e.g. do laundry, cook meals, manage one’s finances etc.
Njoroge turned six years two weeks ago, which left me stressing over how little time I have left to influence him. Because once he hits ten, he will have formed his own ideologies and beliefs based on his nurturing, both at home, school and from his social circles. How do I groom him into a self-reliant man in such a short time frame? This is indeed a work in progress, starting from birth. I am six years in, and what I may have done or not have done thus far is irrelevant. All I have to do now is purpose to be deliberate in how I raise him going forward.
I will teach him to be kind, a very hard concept for children to grasp. He is so used to being the only one, so I try to encourage him to share with the kids he plays with and those that come over to visit. I also ask him to share his favorite snack with me.
I will teach him how to be a gentleman: He gets the door for me nowadays and tries to carry stuff for me. Chivalry WILL NOT DIE on my watch.
I will encourage decision-making: “Njoroge, what jersey are you going to wear today, Juventus or Manchester?” This also means that when he decides to rock the green and yellow Brazil jersey, the red Liverpool shorts, the blue socks and red soccer boots, I will approve his decision!
The significance of birthdays will not to be downplayed. I will use this opportunity to encourage new responsibilities, “You are now going to year 1, you are older and with that comes new responsibilities. You will start wearing uniform and leather shoes, and polishing your shoes is your responsibility.”
Every day we have the chance and privilege to mould these little human beings and we have to actively think of how we do this. They are looking up to us and everything we do contributes to who they end up being, one way or another. It’s almost as if we have several pieces of different puzzles. Some fit and others don’t, but either way we have to fix a complete puzzle.
What practical advice would you give a young mother trying to raise a self-reliant child?
By Wanjiru Waithaka.