How To Raise Independent Kids (Without Losing Your Mind)

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Raising independent children is a major goal of healthy parenting and obviously so important. They’ll do better in school, be less likely to give into peer pressure when they know something isn’t right, have brighter careers, and generally know how to take care of themselves in a healthy, happy way.

But there is one thing you’re going to have to do if you’re going to instill her with an independent spirit—you’re going to have to let go a bit. And loosening the reigns can come with a teeny bit of parenting anxiety. “You’ll likely always think of her as your little girl—no matter how old she is—and your instinct might be to want to keep a watch over her and hold her hand through everything she does,” says Girl Scouts Developmental Psychologist Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Ph.D. “The truth is, though, that by giving her age-appropriate levels of independence and freedom, she’ll have a better chance of developing into a young woman who can stand on her own two feet and really succeed in whatever career or lifestyle she chooses.” And who doesn’t want that for their girl, right?

No matter your girl’s age, there are super simple ways to boost her independence little by little. Try out these tips and watch her grow and flourish before your eyes!

If She’s a Toddler or in Preschool…
Independent play is a great way to set her up as a self-starter. It’s only natural for her to want you to play with her—and interactive play is important to her development as well—but start setting aside some time for her to play by herself. Here’s how to do it: Set her up with some of her favorite toys, and then start doing an entirely different activity in the same or an adjacent room. As she plays by herself, she’ll have the security of knowing you’re nearby (and you can keep an eye on her!) while she tests the kiddie-pool waters of independence.

If She’s in Elementary School…
Making and packing her own lunch for school or camp will make her appreciate her mid-day meal a little bit more (who knew it took time and effort to make a sandwich?!)—plus, it will give her important life skills that will help her be more independent in the years to come. If she’s in early grades, work with her to make the lunch each day, giving her only the most age-appropriate tasks like putting the apple slices you’ve cut up into a sandwich baggie. As she gets older and is more responsible, she can experiment with making her own sandwiches or wraps.

If She’s in Middle School…
Depending on her maturity level, she’s probably ready to be left home alone for short periods of time. Before you head out and leave her as the queen of the castle, though, make sure to spend time teaching her how to handle emergency situations, going over house rules, and even addressing what to do if someone rings the doorbell or knocks on your front door. Make sure emergency numbers are kept by the phone and that you’ve come up with a list of activities she is allowed to do (or not) while you’re out. Stay nearby in the neighborhood the first time or two so you can get home quickly just in case. All of these things will build her confidence in being able to hold down the fort, and show her just how independent and strong she can be!

If She’s in High School…
Chances are, your older girl likes to go out with her friends and wishes she could stay out with them even later than her curfew. Instead of flatly saying, “no,” next time she asks, explain that if she wants something so grown up as a later curfew, she’s going to need to negotiate for it like she’s more grown up! Let her know you’re willing to hear her out, but that she’ll need to give you strong reasons why she needs a later curfew (it being “not fair” or “everyone else has a later one” doesn’t count!) and also offer up examples of how responsible she is or how and how often she might check-in with you, so that you’ll know you can trust her with a later curfew. Being a good negotiator is a huge step in being more independent that she’ll use throughout her life. And hey, if she’s got good points and has a good track record of being trust-worthy and making her earlier curfew, you might just want to let her stay out that extra 30 minutes.

This article originally appeared in GirlScouts.org.