Responsive Parenting and the Independent Child

Almost every morning like clockwork, our youngest daughter rolls over and asks me to accompany her to the bathroom. And every morning, I get up and I stand there and wait and chat with her and then we wash our hands and return to bed together.

This morning, I heard her leaving the bed so I looked up and made eye contact with her expecting a request for me to join her. Instead she told me “you can stay here mama” and she left.

What did I do to influence this change? Nothing.

Or perhaps technically; everything.

I consistently meet her needs without reservation, without concern for what that could lead to, without expectation.

Because independence cannot be forced.

An independent child is one who has…


Are you more likely to take a risk if you have people who can support you when it doesn’t work out or if you do not?

A child who is crying to sleep in their own room to no avail is not becoming independent. They’re alone. They’re becoming suspicious. They are coming to the conclusion that they have to rely on themselves because they have no option to rely on anybody else. They’re learning to survive out of necessity, not ability or desire.

A lack of support does not contribute to an independent child but an insecure one.

When the belief that the child is capable becomes the refusal of assistance, distrust develops in others.


Opportunity to take risk is a key component of being able to. Sometimes those who attribute dependence on a child who has had their needs met are misinterpreting a situation where a child has been prevented from exploring their own ability.

Children are curious about the world and eager to get involved, when that is met with a parent who obstructs their ability out of fear (that their child will be hurt physically or emotionally or that their child might one day no longer need them), they project that apprehension onto their child.

An abundance of restriction does not contribute to a protected child but an insecure one.

When the belief that the child is incapable becomes the insistence of assistance, distrust develops in oneself.

In the end, independence is experienced from a place of trust; trusting yourself and your ability and also trusting others in the event that you do need some help. Independence can only thrive if the people around you don’t enforce detachment or encroach on exploration.

Independence is useful, but caring attitudes and behaviours shrivel up in a culture where each person is responsible only for himself. — Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes

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