How Can I Help My 10-Year-Old Be More Independent?

How Can I Help My 10-Year-Old Be More Independent?

Susan Stiffelman

I am having an issue with trying to teach my 10-year-old daughter to do things for herself. She asks me to clean her eyeglasses, or insists we unload the dishwasher together instead of doing it by herself. I want to show her that we should lend a hand to the people we love, but I also want her to learn to be independent. She says I’m being mean when I suggest she can do something on her own. Am I confusing her when she asks me to do things and I say No?

I strongly believe that anything a child can do for herself, she should do for herself. Given the countless things that a 10-year-old genuinely needs assistance with, I encourage you to let her do things on her own whenever she can. Here’s my advice:

• Acknowledge objections. “I know you like it when I clean your glasses for you, sweetheart. Maybe you think I do a better job, or you just don’t feel like doing it. I get that. And, it’s something you can do for yourself.”

• Request, don’t criticize. I once heard an interview with Diane Sawyer who was asked to share what she believed had made her marriage a success. She said, “A criticism is just a really bad way of making a request…so just make the request!” When you approach your daughter, avoid saying, “There’s no reason you can’t unload the dishwasher yourself. Why do you keep asking for my help?”

Instead, try something like this: “I know you like it when we empty the dishwasher together, but would you help me out by doing it on your own?” There’s no need to add a negative comment or accusation about how she has behaved in the past. Just make the request.

• Understand her ambivalence. As your daughter moves from childhood toward adolescence, there will be countless times when she will long to be older or younger than she is. While there is something exhilarating about growing up, many children feel very sad about leaving behind the innocence and simplicity of their early years. It is a clumsy transition, fraught with moments when a perfectly capable child insists she cannot do something that she can, as well as wanting privileges she is not yet ready for.

• Empower her with age-appropriate responsibilities. What can your daughter be in charge of? Perhaps she can take on responsibility for watering the potted plants. Or maybe she can be the one who writes out the grocery list. Help her gently move toward independence by trusting her with tasks that give her the satisfaction of a job well done.

• Appreciate her efforts to do things her way. “I loved the way you stacked the clean bowls. That was very clever of you to figure out a way to save space on the shelf!” Be careful to let her do things differently from you. If she feels criticized for not doing things exactly the way you like them done, she will be reluctant to help out.

Children learn confidence by doing things for themselves. Help your daughter know that while you are always glad to help her when she is genuinely in need, your job as a parent is to help her grow into a young woman who is capable and resourceful. I wouldn’t worry about confusing her by not always lending a hand when she asks. As long as she sees you being giving and supportive to those around you, she will understand the importance of giving to others when they need the help.

 Susan Stiffelman is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Counselor, an Educational Therapist, Parent Educator and Professional Speaker. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Developmental Psychology, a California K-9 Teaching Credential, a Masters of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology, and a California Marriage and Family Therapist license since 1991. Visit her website
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