As the saying goes, if you love something, let it go. Parenthood is a long process of gradually letting go, starting with trusting a babysitter with the child, then saying goodbye to them on their first day of kindergarten, all the way to saying goodbye on the first day of college, or a grown child moving away, getting married, starting their own life.
Though it is was what we raise them to eventually be, seeing your child become more independent can make you nostalgic for the times when they were still small. That being said, it can be reassuring to see them grow and develop into the people we know they can become, and it's a nice break from having to do literally everything for them. Kids will eventually grow up and do whatever they want, we're just here for the ride and, hopefully, to guide them a little bit.
Although this process is highly personal and relative, and even a “child” in her twenties may still “need mom” to talk her through a breakup, here are 20 signs that should make you feel good about letting your child venture out into the world.
There are thousands or even millions of adults who have yet to master this skill, so if you notice your child using self-soothing behaviors, you should be very proud of your parenting skills. Self-soothing refers to the ability to calm yourself down when you’re upset, comfort yourself when you’re scared, and related behaviors. Basically, it means that you are able to take care of yourself emotionally.
Of course, humans are social beings, and we all need friends and family to get us through the hard times. But when it comes to smaller, more everyday challenges and rough moods, being able to self-soothe is a sure sign of developing emotional maturity.
Self-soothing can be crucial in terms of dealing with stressful and upsetting situations away from home.
According to Understood, some of the common methods of self-soothing that can be taught include: deep breathing, positive visualization, listening to music, doing physical activity. Psychology Today reported that, although the goal of self-soothing is to alleviate stress and is generally positive, there are some instances in which the behaviors become more destructive. These behaviors pop up later in life such as substance abuse, addiction, and toxic relationships.
19 Doing Chores (Without Being Told)
For parents of younger kids, this may sound like an impossible dream. But eventually, many older children and teens learn that it really is best to “clean as you go,” and other little pieces of advice they’ve rolled their eyes at for years. This may be one of those lessons they have to learn the hard way, so don’t get too worried about your messy teenager going off to college--they’ll probably learn there that it’s no fun to live in room that resembles a landfill, and start working to make their space more livable.
If your child learns to value cleaning at a young age, so much the better! You could consider trying to teach this lesson “the hard way,” by relaxing your own rules on keeping their rooms clean, so they learn it before going off to college or their own first apartment. However, you should probably still keep some ground rules, like no food in the bedroom, to prevent this experiment from getting too gross. At the end of a month, sit down with your child and talk about what they learned. Maybe your son will say, “I think you’re right about putting my toys away when I’m done with them, but I don’t see why dusting is important.” Then design a new chore system you both agree on.
18 Talking About Their Feelings
In the olden days, it was said that “children should be seen and not heard.” That is far from the mantra of modern parents. Now, the ability to recognize, name, and communicate feelings is much more valued. A child who can explain what they’re angry about and why is less likely to lash out physically or throw a tantrum. A teen who’s anxious about a test but doesn’t have the tools or confidence to express this may come across as sulky at a family dinner, or may overreact to another situation because her real feelings are bottled up.
If your child has anxiety, depression, or other mental illness, it’s especially crucial to develop these skills.
Someone who got used to explaining “I’m cranky because I’m tired,” as a five year old will likely be far more comfortable explaining what’s on their mind as a teenager.
But if you didn’t start working on this early on with your child, don’t panic. These skills can be learned at any age. Just make clear to your child that you are always there to listen, and will love them no matter what. This promise can help a child who’s embarrassed to talk about a certain subject to open up.
17 Choosing Healthy Foods
Like cleaning their room and keeping their space clean, this is one of those things that you can tell your child over and over again, but this may be one they have to learn themselves to truly understand. Getting your child used to a healthy, balanced diet will ensure that they get used to the feeling of being properly nourished. They will quickly realize that though certain types of unhealthy foods taste good, they don't feel good. Thus, ensuring that they develop the want for healthy foods.
Growing up, my parents made me and my siblings eat fairly healthy meals, but road trips were the exception. While on long drives, we stopped at fast food restaurants for our meals, and got sugary and salty snacks from gas stations. But after a day of eating like this, I usually felt gross and craved some vegetables to settle my stomach. This made me truly understand the importance of eating a balanced diet more than the constant refrain of “Finish your broccoli before you leave the table,” ever did. Sometimes, being flexible and letting your child make their own mistakes is exactly what needs to happen.
16 Showing Empathy
Do you see your son or daughter choosing to play with a lonely child at the playground rather than competing to be part of a popular group? Do they talk about feeling sad for bullied kids and wanting to help? This is a great sign that your child is becoming both loving and confident.
Many people want to be the nice person who makes others feel at ease, but may be too nervous to take that step.
Kids are no exception. Why do many end up in cliques, or act mean? It’s not because the child is evil--it’s because they’re afraid of sticking out. Befriending an unpopular kid can carry the danger of making the friend unpopular as well, and it takes a child with both empathy and confidence to make that decision. A child who notices the needs of others and steps in to help shows strong values. More often than not, we as parents have a lot to learn from kids like this, because the same situations arise in adult life, whether it means choosing not to engage in office gossip, or stepping forward to introduce a parent who’s new to the area to your other mom friends. When you set a good example, your children will definitely make you proud.
15 Demonstrating Media Literacy
We’ve all heard that the media can affect our worldview and give us unrealistic expectations, but as a young person, it takes a while for these lessons to really sink in. If your daughter understands that the beauty standards she sees in magazines and movies are impossible to live up to (and often photoshopped) that’s a good sign. If your son comments on the ridiculous way men act towards women on reality shows and in rom-coms, he’s probably got a good head on his shoulders.
These skills are starting to be taught in schools, but it’s also something that you can work on with them at home. Try to have honest conversations with them when you watch a movie together. For example, you can ask which parts seem realistic, or if they think there are any stereotypes being portrayed. If your child or teen can point out the strategies and rhetoric being used by advertisers, they’re much less likely to fall prey to believing untrue things. In today’s Internet age, it’s crucial to be able to recognize when a creator has a bias, so you can separate fact from fiction.
14 Resolving Disagreements Healthily
In school, I remember being taught how to argue during a health class, and finding the idea bizarre. Why teach us how to argue? Isn’t arguing bad? But eventually, I understood that while a mean-spirited argument is not what anyone wants, disagreement is inevitable in life.
The important thing is learning how to disagree with others and communicate about it in a way that causes as little hurt as possible.
Not expressing one's disagreement with an action or situation can be dangerous.It is important to learn how to stand up for yourself and what you value. A life of unintended compromise is a recipe for dissatisfaction and resentment. Though you can't have everything you want in life, not being afraid to express it and negotiate your way closer to it is an invaluable skill. To be blindly submissive is not useful in the adult world.
Being someone who argues well doesn’t have to mean you’re the star of the debate team; instead, it means you can stay friends with someone who has different opinions than you. It means coming to a compromise about sharing something with a sibling--without Mom having to step in and define who gets it when.
13 Developing Hobbies And Interests
Lots of kids are obsessed with dinosaurs. But if your child is getting older and still loves dinosaurs with a passion, to the point that they ask you to take them to the library to check out books on them, it may be an interest they carry with them into adult life. Perhaps they will become a paleontologist or a biologist! Famous writers start out as kids who love to read, and young artists express themselves with crayons before moving on to oil paints.
It’s important to give your child the freedom to explore their own interests, even if you don’t understand them or think they could turn into careers. Very few little boys who love sports turn into professional football players, but a sports journalist is definitely attainable. Video games may seem like a time waster, but video game developers and software programmers have to start somewhere! Encourage your child when they get excited about a topic, help them do research and explore related opportunities. Most of all, listen when they’re talking to you about it. This communicates to the child that you respect them and their interests. You never know what hobby might turn out to be your child’s future passion and career--or just remains a fulfilling hobby throughout their lives.
12 Showing Initiative At School
An independent child does their homework without being told (usually) and without asking Mom and Dad to check every answer. This child probably has a favorite class--or more than one favorite! They seek out extra books, documentaries, or websites to learn about these topics, or puts special effort into their work in that class.
Teachers will probably comment on the child’s love for this subject at parent-teacher conferences.
Or maybe none of the school subjects really click with your child, but he or she still works hard because they know good grades can lead to a good future. Not to worry if your kid doesn’t love the classic topics like math, reading, or history--at college there are much more specific classes available, which might really click for them. Who wouldn’t get motivated by a class like Forensic Psychology, Art History, or Spanish for Medical Professionals? Classes in college can seem much more linked to a future career, which is exciting and motivating. But your independent child can look to the future and see how even middle-school classes are building the framework for those later studies.
11 Knowing Their Limits
As a counterpoint to the importance of school work, though school is important, students shouldn’t take things too far. There is a culture on the internet of “studygrams” and “studyblrs” where young people make posts and videos about studying for 14 hours a day and making elaborate notes. While some students can find these inspiring, it’s probably not healthy to get that obsessed with school. Some children and teens devote all their time to studying because they’re terrified of failing, or not making it into a good college. It’s good for a child to be self-motivated, but if they’re losing sleep and have no balance in their lives, it can become a problem.
The ideal is for a child to value their studies, while also realizing that perfection is unrealistic. This child is able to bounce back from failures, knowing that they have the skills and drive to do better next time. She can say, I’ve studied enough for this test, now I should get some sleep. We all want our children to be successful, but it’s important not to push them too hard. A happy child with time for friends and hobbies will often end up more successful in the end than one who is pushed to be a prodigy and ends up burning out in college due to overly strenuous study habits.
10 Alone Time
If your child is an introvert, they probably made their need for alone time clear pretty early on. But even an extrovert needs to learn the importance of alone time, and the ability to use it well.
If your kids share a room, or you just live in a small space where your kid might not have a place to go for alone time, consider creating a signal for when they want to be left alone. My oldest gets pretty cranky if you interrupt her while she’s reading just to chat, so if she’s got her nose in a book, we try not to interrupt unless it’s important (for instance, dinnertime!) If your child is old enough and you live in a safe neighborhood, maybe they can go on a walk alone to have some space with their thoughts.
Alone time isn’t something to push on your child--rather, it’s something to encourage when you see that they want or need it.
An introvert who never gets alone time is more likely to be grumpy or sullen, while one who gets some time and space to recharge will likely end up seeming more talkative and cheerful afterwards. After being in a classroom full of other kids all day, your child may need some time to process things before talking about his day. It can be hard for an extroverted parent with an introverted child, but let your kid initiate conversations, and you’ll reap the rewards.
9 Developing Their Own Style
Forcing a tomboy into frilly dresses because you want her to wear them will cause more trouble than it’s worth. She’ll be uncomfortable the whole time, and you’ll both resent the experience. At a certain age, it just doesn’t work for Mom to pick out the outfits. If you’re concerned that your kid will pick out an outfit that’s inappropriate for a certain event, talk through it together and see what items in the closet you’re both comfortable with, or make the decision together when shopping. There’s so many options available these days that there should be something you both agree looks great.
Or if you’re even more laissez-faire, let your child or teen wear the “ridiculous” outfit. What’s the worst that could happen? Don’t worry about their funky style reflecting poorly on you. A happy kid with a trendsetting streak will reflect better on you than a grumpy kid in a sweet traditional dress tied with a bow. And that authentic smile will shine through in family photos. Much better than looking back at those photos and just remembering the arguments that happened while you were getting ready!
8 Buying/Making Gifts For Others
I don’t know how Mothers/Fathers Day, holidays, and birthdays work in your family, but in mine, dad offers the kids a “gift shop” when it’s time to give me a gift, and vice versa. Basically, since the kids are kids and have no money of their own, Dad buys three gifts he thinks I would like, and lets each kid pick which one they want to be from them. But this year, my oldest decided she wanted to make the gift be really from her, so she saved up her allowance, bought a blank canvas, and painted me a picture for Mothers Day. The effort she put into this gift meant so much to me, as well as reflecting her own unique personality.
I don’t have any recommendations for how to encourage this behavior, because the whole point is that it should be initiated by the child.
A kid who saves up money to buy a gift, or works to create a homemade one, is showing that they are thoughtful and loving. It’s not the gift that matters--with kids, it really is the thought that counts.
7 Knowing Web Safety
We all know that the internet can be a dangerous place, especially for kids who don’t know any better than to click a suspicious link, or share personal information. It can be scary to allow your kids free rein with the computer, even if you have settings enabled to make it safer. But at a certain point, they need to learn how to manage these things for themselves, because you won’t be looking over their shoulder when they move out! Even when they live under your roof, if your computer rules are too restrictive, it’ll probably cause more rebellion and sneakiness than anything else.
So go over rules about what info is and is not okay to share online, how to make a strong password, give a few warnings about which links and websites are likely virus-ridden. They’ll likely be hearing these messages at school, too. Then let them do their thing, whether they’re using the computer for homework or to play a game. The knowledge that you trust them will probably inspire more responsible behavior. Being patronized would annoy anyone--but being treated like a grown-up makes a young person work to live up to that title.
6 Developing a Moral Compass
In addition to the empathy mentioned earlier, a moral compass is crucial for a young person. Although the phrase may sound idyllic, the actual development of this compass may be a rocky process.
Because your child is a separate person from you, their moral compass will probably differ from yours, at least in some ways, even if they have learned other parts from you.
Your child is growing up in a different world than you grew up in, so they’re likely to have different views on politics (has there ever been a teenager who didn’t clash with their parents about politics?) and potentially different ideas about how to be a good person in the internet age. Maybe in this generation, breaking up over the phone is more acceptable than it would have been for us!
I know I used to have disagreements with my dad about when lying is okay. His stance: never. My stance: it’s okay when it’s to protect someone, like a white lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Some advice, when you realize that you and your child have a difference in opinion about something like this, try to talk it out so you both understand where the other is coming from. Otherwise, it could easily turn into a topic you argue about regularly.
5 Using Manners
It may seem like a little thing, but kids who truly absorb lessons about manners will really shine as they venture out in the world. Manners means more than just “please” and “thank you,” it can also mean holding open the door for a stranger, or making a concerted effort to be punctual. When you teach manners to a little kid, it’s usually just a habit to recite the right words, or they’re just doing it because they know there will be a scolding if they don’t. However, older children who use these manners without being prompted show that they have developed respect for other people, even strangers.
Manners aren’t about following antiquated etiquette rules. It’s about kindness and respect for others. So if you have a kid that forgets to say “please” but lets their loving nature shine while offering to help you and others, don’t get too worried. Getting the words right will probably come later, but your child has already taken the most important lesson about manners to heart. Spreading kindness is one of the best judges of character for young people.
4 Being Responsible for a Pet (Or Plant!)
A child who can remembers to feed the dog and take him on walks is well on their way to taking care of themselves, as well. There are sure to be times when the kid is feeling lazy and doesn’t want to go on that walk, but if she goes anyway, that shows responsibility and an ability to care for others.
Even taking care of a plant can hint that these skills are blossoming (pardon the pun). Especially considering that a dog or cat will not let anyone forget to be fed-- they’ll nudge you with their snouts, rattle their food bowls, or if it’s my dog, sneeze on your legs. But remembering to water a plant at regular intervals is a task that relies solely on the person.
Maybe if you’re hesitating over whether your kids are ready for a pet, you could start them off with a plant, rather than the classic goldfish.
When you do get a pet, be clear about expectations. Is it your child’s pet, and they will be responsible for all regular care? Or is it a family pet, where the kids are just expected to pitch in on occasion? Clear expectations are a springboard for success.
3 Treating Possessions With Respect
Respect may seem like an odd term to use with inanimate objects. But you know it when you see it. Perhaps this means your son handling dishes carefully while washing them, or your teen daughter being proactive about taking her first car in for an oil change. Young children often break toys by accident, or even go through a destruction phase where they’re obsessed with building with blocks and then knocking them over. But as time goes on, older kids start to learn to be gentle and take good care of their own things, as well as –perhaps more importantly– other people’s possessions.
Now, this doesn’t mean worshipping “stuff,” becoming a hoarder, or getting addicted to electronics. Rather, it means being careful and intentional with the way you use things, and often goes hand-in-hand with learning skills like tidying. Respect for possessions is on the same continuum as respecting your space – also known as, keeping your room clean. A kid who throws their belongings on the ground of their room is much more likely to break things than one who puts everything in its proper place. This also is related to an understanding of the value of money, because breaking or losing something means money wasted.
2 Less Sibling Rivalry, More Sibling Harmony
In addition to resolving disagreements properly, independent kids learn how to have less of them in the first place. Rather than mindlessly bickering just to pass the time, your kids may be starting to learn what they have in common, and activities they enjoy doing together. Your children are their own people, so they may develop interests that surprise you. My two little boys are obsessed with baseball right now, which is mystifying to me because neither I nor their father watch sports. But somehow, they’ve caught sports fever, and it’s precious to see them on the couch together, cheering for their favorite team.
It can take a long time for siblings to develop a closer bond, and some never end up as each other’s best friends.
It’s also possible that their relationships will change multiple times over the years.
Sisters are famous for fighting one minute and being two peas in a pod again the next. Don’t get too concerned about these little fights. Sisters like this usually love each other fiercely, and these arguments are proof that they feel confident enough in their love for each other to test it from time to time. It’s not unlikely that they’ll end up as each others’ maids of honor--a beautiful moment for any family.
1 Realizing the Parents Are People Too
When I was little, I remember thinking of my own parents as one amorphous blob. Over time, of course, I understood their differences--everyone learns which parent is more likely to be the “good cop” and say yes to your requests. But it took until my twenties until I finally understood that my parents were people. Hopefully, your child learns this lesson a little sooner! A kid who asks you things like, “How is your day?” or “How are you feeling?” shows a lot of maturity. They understand that other people have their own unique perspectives and experiences, and is curious to better understand them, even if the person in question is someone they’ve known their whole lives!
Having a kid who tells you all about their day is great, but if the kid then asks you about your day in exchange, that is a really impressive sign. At this point, your child may be starting to recognize that they don’t “need” you, and that instead they love you and want you to be actively involved in each other’s lives as a choice. You can’t choose your family--but you can choose to make your bond more intentional.