There’s a saying that the two gifts we give our children are roots and wings — a sense of connectedness to family, culture, and community and the confidence to move beyond what they know so they become their own person. I’ve seen this happen in my own life. The baby that my husband and I once nicknamed the “barnacle” (because of her desire to be held at all times) moved across the country to start college this past fall. As parents, we’re so busy with daily routines and responsibilities it can be easy to forget that part of our job is supporting this essential growth — with us and beyond us.
Growing your child’s roots helps to connect them to your family, your culture, your community, and your traditions. To encourage that connection, you can:
Create connections to family by sharing traditions with your child. Whether it’s “Sunday Sundaes,” a weekly family hike, or a special meal, these traditions give children a sense of identity, connection, and culture.
Share stories from your own childhood and from older generations. Talk about the challenges experienced by family members, as well as their achievements. These stories help children to develop a sense of history, and grounds them in the values of their family system.
Build connections with family — whether it’s on video chat or in person. Making opportunities for children to get to know other family members (whether family by relation or by choice) helps to grow their world and lets them know they’re loved and supported by a whole community of people.
Growing your child’s wings allows them to build their confidence in being independent and responsible. To support that growth, you can:
Give your preschooler the opportunity to participate in family chores and tasks. Preschoolers think chores are fun, I promise! (Full disclosure: I once gave my 4-year-old son a child-size carpet sweeper as a gift — and I swear he loved it. Also: Clean carpets. Win, win.) Children between 3 and 5 years old can help to dry plastic and unbreakable dishes or set the table. They can assist with meals, like stirring cinnamon into applesauce, or put their dirty clothes in the basket. Outside, a preschooler can help with watering plants or sweeping a sidewalk. Of course, you may still need to provide help as needed. But when children have a chance to contribute to family tasks, they build confidence, independence, and a sense of responsibility.
Give children opportunities for independent play. “Free play” helps your child develop their own ideas and thinking. If this is new to your child, you may start with short bouts of independent play — 10 or 15 minutes, and build from there. Another approach is to offer your preschooler open-ended materials, like a cardboard box, scrap paper, and masking tape, and suggest they create something special during free play time.
Let your child talk for themselves. Very often as parents we find ourselves speaking for our child, “Yes, we’d like the rainbow sprinkles!” Instead, give your preschooler a chance to ask their own questions or make their own requests. While this may be quite new, learning to talk with adults outside the family helps children become their own advocates in the world around them.
Ask your child to problem-solve with you. If they’re upset about having to go to the doctor, talk together about what makes them feel better when they’re worried. Holding a teddy bear? Holding your hand? Hearing a favorite story? Learning to think through a challenging situation is a lifetime skill that begins in the early years.
Independence is bittersweet. Just as we find ourselves happy to have a few moments to ourselves, we also sometimes miss the way our babies and toddlers needed us so much. What’s great to know is that connection and independence are not two different things in parenting. They are happening at the same time, all the time, as we work to raise a child who is loving and linked to family and who pushes forward to find their place in the larger world.