Boy did I love having infants, and boy do I love that my kids are now more independent and can get around on their own! With two teenagers and one 10 year old who is beginning to ask to walk to school on her own this year, I am really feeling my freedom!
But while I might love the extra freedom I am getting from the care and feeding of my kids, some mothers hate it. So we have to acknowledge that the process our kids go through in separating from us; emotionally and physically, is both back and forth, and involves not just their emotional head set, but ours as well.
That is why as I was contemplating writing this piece on tweens and independence, I began to think about how vital a role our own feelings about their independence plays.
You see it I think, practically from birth. There are Moms who are happily (or not so happily but attempting it anyhow), to 'Ferber-ize' their kids, while there are others who prefer the Family Bed. This to say, that we need to factor in our own feelings and perhaps, anxieties about our kids' growing independence. Our feelings and attitudes will affect how they take these developmental steps.
The other thing to consider is where you live, and how much independence is even reasonable or doable. I have to say that this is where living in NYC comes in so handily. By virtue of a fantastic public transportation system, most kids by 7th and certainly 8th grade, are taking buses if not subways, and sometimes taxis, by themselves or with friends. This gives them tremendous independence and the ability to develop a profound sense of mastery and competence.
So, a couple of tips and things to consider when your 5th and 6th grader starts to ask to walk to school on their own, or go to the mall by themselves:
1) By the age of 10, or 11, most kids are wishing for some independence. This is more the norm. If you are terribly anxious about this, try to contain it and not show your child. This will make them more frightened and interfere with their ability to become more competent. Take baby steps and start with very short distances.
2) That being said, check out your own child's level of maturity and responsibility. You can test them out in small ways. You can start with your 5th or usually 6th graders walking to school with other friends. Follow them the first time to see how they do, (you can tell them and do it very inobtrusively,). This will help them to remember the rules you teach them and give you a chance to observe how they do.
3) Clear and simple rules help. Small kids can't be seen by cars and should not jaywalk by any means. Even if no cars are coming! Kids these ages can't yet cognitively judge distances and how far cars are and can approach yet and absolutely need to follow the traffic signals. (In NYC all adults jaywalk and our kids do it when they are with it so it is very important to teach them differently and tell them why.)
4) Cell phones are key here. If you can't afford one, figure out a way that they call you when they arrive at their destination. Stay in touch so they know that you are within calling distance and can be connected.
5) 7th and 8th graders start to want to go further distances by themselves and are more mature to handle this. Many kids in this age range begin to take buses to after school activities by themselves, if it is not too complicated, and even subways. This depends on your kid. Don't push it if they are too nervous, but feel them out on their readiness.
There can be a lot of peer pressure towards more independence, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It can help your child feel more comfortable as they travel in a group, or with a friend or two, and it can help you feel that they are not alone. Always give them a way to blame you though, if they are uncomfortable that their friends are doing something or trying to go somewhere alone and they are not quite ready for it. Tell them over and over that they can say "Mom won't let me do that yet and I will get into trouble" even if you do let them. This will help them save face and come in handy whenever they are in peer pressure situations and are feeling uncomfortable.
So enjoy these nail biting times and know that their independence means some extra freedom for you!
Happy Independence Days!