Fostering Independence

Updated on June 18, 2010
N.S. asks from Buffalo Grove, IL
12 answers

How old should children be before they can accomplish tasks with minimal supervision?

My almost 9-year old stepdaughter won't do anything unless I'm standing over her. If I send her in to get dressed, she'll still be in her PJs when I check on her 15 minutes later. If she's supposed to get her stuff ready for class, she's playing with toys until I come in and check. It's like she waits for me to check on her before she does anything!

I asked her to make out her birthday invitations. So she started writing (while watching TV). I had things to do. I checked on her and every time I did it looked like she was working. At the end of 2 hours she only had 4 invitations written! Then my husband said that it was MY fault because I didn't push her to do it. *sigh*

I think at her age she should be able to do things with minimal supervision. If I ask her to get dressed I shouldn't have to stand there or check on her every 5 minutes. I do use a timer and that helps a lot. I also make her do her chores before any fun things can happen so she's usually good about cleaning her room and the bathroom. I also think that standing over her doesn't teach her how to be independent. My husband says I have to "run her" and get her to do it. That's what he does.

I feel like a lot of our issues come from my husband's low expectations. I've been teaching kids of all ages for 20 years so I think I have a pretty good idea of when kids do what! I don't expect her to be like everyone else because I know every child is an individual. But my husband had her in diapers until she was 4! And she didn't learn how to tie her shoes until last year (age 8) or ride a 2-wheeler (age 8). She still can't swim, and I feel at age 9 she should be able to swim!

How can I show my husband what kids should know when without making him feel like a bad dad. Whenever I bring stuff up he always ends with "so you think I'm a bad father." Help!

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So What Happened?

Thanks to everyone that answered! I'm feeling less frustrated after reading your responses and ready to make changes.

Thanks for the ADHD pointer, but she does not have ADHD. She CAN focus when she wants to! If we're getting ready to go to Great America then it's amazing how quickly and well she can get herself ready and do her chores. She can get everything done perfectly. So I know that she CAN, it's that she WON'T. And I can't always give her big motivation like that every day.

I'm ready to talk to her dad about how she is ready to have less supervision, perhaps I can show him how great she can be one day and how another day she suddenly can't do it. Then he'll know she CAN.

Thanks again! You mamas are wonderful!

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answers from Chicago on

I agree that a nine year old should be somewhat independent, but, I also agree with the previous post suggesting that this may be an ADHD issue. Girls attention disorders are often overlooked because they don't "act up" the way boys do. I teach elementary school, and girls' adhd is characterized by disorganization, distraction, incompletion of tasks, etc., which sounds a lot like what you're describing. I would keep the rules in place, but I also would consult with a doctor about this.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

At 9 they can accomplish tasks with NO supervision. I agree I don't think standing over her teaches her independence. It would definately help if your husband was on the same page with you in regards to this, but we can't always make them do what we want (wink), darn. Maybe you could check the internet for sites about what children in regards to chores, etc. should and can do at what ages. Maybe he would see at 9 y/o she should be doing WAY MORE than she it now without supervision. :-)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Time to check out love n logic.
-Only 4 invites done? that's all she's inviting to the party, period.
-Didn't get dressed, sigh, you'll be going in your PJs.
-Nothing done for class? She'll have to explain it to the teacher.

She's 1/2 way to being an adult. When she's an adult she'll need to cook, clean, manage finances, manage a household, etc. She should be 1/2 way in a microwave, almost able to cook a dinner on a stove. Managing her allowance, managing her allowance for things she wants/needs, etc.

Since she's your stepdaughter you'll need your DH on board. Get a few copies of the Love n Logic series at the library and read them together. GL!!!



answers from Provo on

He is not a bad father but I do feel that a lot of people do make the mistake of not letting their children learn independence. Huge mistake!! She will be so so confused when you are not around to do things for her. My mother always did everything for me. If I messed around when she told me to do something she would just do it. This taught me nothing and made it exceptionally h*** o* me when I got out on my own. I have learned a lot of hard lessons in my life that should have been avoided. I feel this is the biggest thing I do with my children since I was never taught that.

I do know children around your daughters age like to drag their feet. My son is 6 and when I tell him to do something he better do it. He constantly tests me but overall he is pretty good. I started when he was about 3 years old saying, "Get up and pick out you clothes for school and get dressed." If he is not ready then I walk out the door and just tell him that I need to go. I turn off the TV when it is time for him to do something. I have a little hourglass in the bathroom for him to use when it is time to brush his teeth. I have used the timer also. Nanny 911 gives a lot of ideas also.

I guess you could just explain to your husband that you guys are really not doing her any favors by teaching her to be dependent. She will eventually have to do things on her own and it is easier for her to venture out and learn things now. It will actually be a whole lot easier for you guys also because you can be her safety net.



answers from Chicago on

My son used to be like that too. He wouldn't do anything without me checking on him all the time. We started to make everything into a race. For example, in the morning when it was time to get dressed I told him: "I bet it takes you longer to get dressed than it takes me to empty the dishwasher." It worked.

As for the invites to the party. Don't let her do anything in front of the tv when you want it to be done. Tell her she can watch tv after the invites are done. I bet it will make her much more focused. I don't think that children are able to multi-task like that.

I don't think it is that unusual that she cannot swim. Swimming is something that is learned by practicing a lot. While they teach the theory at swim school, from what I've observed, they don't get a lot of time to practice. They always have to wait at the side of the pool until it's their turn, so when the practice is 40 minutes, they usually only get ten or less minutes of actual practice time. The key to swimming is tons and tons of practice which means spending a lot of time at the lake or in the pool.



answers from Chicago on

since she is your step daughter, unless she lives with you all the time I just can't see you being able to influence this. Perhaps you need to get a book on being a step parent and get suggestions that way.


answers from Little Rock on

I agree whole heartedly a 9 yrs old should have some indepenance and should be watched 24 7. I don't know but could she have ADHD. It sounds like she gets destracted easily. "It was just a thought." But you are right if ur hubby doesn't exspect much he won't get much. She is trying you and him to see how much she can get away with. Pull together and set GROUND RULES for you 2 and seperate ones for her. There was a time when my hubby traveled all wk and the rule were thrown out the window when he came home. Yah well that didn't fly with me for long because, just as I would get them straight he was home again!! So as A COUPLE we sat down and really talk about it. And stuck to it!! and it worked out great!
hope this helps



answers from Chicago on

I agree with the other posters, it's absolutely appropriate to expect a lot more from her. In fact, it's important to expect more, because that demonstrates your confidence in her. In regards to your husband's defensiveness about being a bad father, he needs to get past that. Parenting is about the child, not the parent. And kids are constantly changing, so parents constantly have to reevaluate how they're doing, what's working and what's not. Sounds like it's time to reevaluate. Moving beyond his own discomfort and challenging his daughter to reach her potential will help him be a great dad!



answers from Chicago on

Does she have issues in other areas, like school? If you ask her, does she say she has a hard time concentrating?
You could work with her from her perspective of what would help. Work together to make a checklist that you will go over together EVERY night for a dedicated 1/2 hour or so. Discuss ways to help her organize her thoughts and her things.
I agree with a few others--she really could be having an issue here like ADHD. You could also speak to the school about getting an OT (occupational therapy) evaluation, especially if she's demonstrating any of these issues with concentration, motivation, and organization. This is a great time to step in and help her out before it affects her long term academic and personal life.
Depression could also be a factor that I agree should not be overlooked.

My husband and I also disagree on some methods of parenting--and so far we only have a 2 year old! You two need to find a middle ground to support your daughter to succeed. Definitely don't argue about it when she is home. Get counseling if that helps--or even just meet with a 3rd party like a teacher.

Good luck.



answers from Chicago on

This is his daughter, correct? Then maybe when he says "so you think I'm a bad father" you say, no, you should just try being A FATHER. Why is the onus on you? Is he home during the times his daughter can't seem to get moving? Maybe if you took away tv priviledges until she gets the invitations done, or send her out of the house in her p.j.'s she'd wake up a little and see you mean business. Sounds like he doesn't want to push her and he's happy to keep her "his little girl" (Diapers will 4, omg!) Maybe you take her to the YMCA and sign her up for swimming lessons, it may give her the skills and confidence needed to do other things for herself. Good luck.



answers from Portland on

When my daughter was about 9, I realized that pushing her to do everything was giving me a lot of mental work to do, and allowing her figure out how little effort she could get by on. I read a book on logical consequences (many decades ago; don't recall the title).

It made brilliant sense, so I sat her down and told her it was up to her to keep her clothes picked up, or get them into the wash, to get up and be ready for school on time, etc. I made it clear that whatever (reasonable, age-appropriate tasks) got done was completely up to her. If she didn't care for her clothes, she'd look dirty and wrinkled. If she wasn't dressed in time for school, she could either go in her pajamas or go late (she walked to school), and I would only write a note saying she didn't get ready in time.

It took her two days to get those issues under her own successful control.

On the BD invitations, I have two thoughts: are YOU throwing a party for her? If so, you should do the inviting. Otherwise, isn't she helping to throw a party for herself, which is sort of like trolling for gifts? But if you are clear that she should do the invitations, then only those kids who gets them will receive them. In which case, she's partly determining how big (or small) her party will be.

Let me suggest that you google "motivation in children" for a look at the latest understandings of what motivates kids. Too much or too little involvement by parents can both decrease motivation.



answers from Chicago on

Hi N.S.,
I perfectly understand what you are going through, my son who is 12 now was exactly like your step daughter at 8. Still like that when it comes to boring homework or anything that is unpleasant, mundane in his wiew of things, I guess. But he is getting better, slowly, but he is growing up. He is not ADHD or ADD, he is just like that and I just accepted that it is much harder to be his parent than a parent of his 3 y/o brother who picks up candy wrapers and closes the toilet seat after his older brother just "because it is not right".
Kids are just little people, they are who they are. My husband sometimes makes me feel like a bad mother when it comes to the older boy because he is "not mature enough" and somehow it is my fault because I do not push him enough. But I do not have to push the other one at all, cleans up after himself, puts his things in proper place, likes to dress himself without help, etc.
Like I said, it is easy to be a parent of "super good kid" and to take the credit - I raised a good child! It is not so easy to fight the uphill road with not so perfect kid. I think your husband is feeling protective of his daughter, I feel the same way with my boy at times. It is hard, believe me,to know that your kid is that way and not being able to change that. G-d created all kinds of people and he intended some place for them in life.
What worked for me in the past is being gentle and having more fun together (sounds like a backward strategy but it works), the more the kid LIKES you the more she will want to please you - do things that are not so pleasant for her. Punishments just build resentment.
Good luck.

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