Monday, March 26, 2012

Teaching Independence

independentBut what if…?

That is a big question when we are trying to teach children independence. We want to protect them from hurt and disappointment but that is impossible. Life is full of hurts and disappointments but it is most important how we handle these situations. We learn at an early age that not everything goes our way or the way we think it should.

My friend who is a ranger will be leaving soon to go back to work at the national park where I met her. Check out her blog post: March Madness, Our Way. Her adult son with disabilities will be left at home (I believe this is his choice) to be independent. Notice that I did not say left alone. His parents have built in many safety nets (roommates, relatives, and agencies) that will be there if he needs them. He has a job and will be able to ride his bike back and forth to work. What a wonderful opportunity for him (and his family)!

I know how hard it is to let our children be more independent but it is necessary if at all possible. Parents and teachers won’t be there for children forever. It is our job to teach values, decision making, and especially looking at the consequences of our actions. By doing this, you are encouraging children to be more successful as they grow up.

When I was growing up, I led a very sheltered life as the baby of the family. I really didn’t have much decision making to do because everything was pretty much done for me. I was expected to do certain things and there was no discussion about it. Then when I went 800 miles away to college, decision making and independence hit me like a brick wall. I have to admit that I didn’t always make the best decisions (but nothing that broke the law) and had to deal with consequences that I never had before. It was truly an eye opener and had the potential for being disastrous. Luckily God was watching out for me and got me through those tough times. Through trial and error, I learned better decision making skills and was more comfortable with my independence. Yet, I wished that my parents had given me more opportunities for this when I lived at home where I would have had the safety net of my family. If any of the “what if” situation happened, I would have had someone to turn to. Instead, I had to learn most of these things on my own.

One year at the high school where I taught, one of my senior girls with a mental disability was working at a local cafeteria. She was doing a great job serving bread and earned a paycheck. This job was mandatory for graduation with an occupational diploma. Imagine my disappointment when this girl was forced to quit the job after graduation because her parents wanted her at home and not working with others. They didn’t want to deal with any “issues” on the job. I feel this girl had a chance at some independence but lost it when her parents wanted to protect her from any employment conflicts, hurt feelings, or interactions with other people. Sometimes through our love, we can be a disservice to our children. When I see this girl in the community, she lets me know that she watches TV and stays at home doing nothing and I feel sad. This girl had the potential to be somewhat independent and lost the chance. I’m not sure that she will ever get this chance again and I worry about what will happen to her after her parents are gone.

Even in our classroom, we need to loosen the reins a little and let our students have a part in the decision making. We need to let them suffer the consequences of their actions, yet be there as their safety net. It is important when things go awry to talk about what happened. Talk about the options the student had and why the choice that was made was the wrong one. Also talk about the other choices and the possible consequences that could have happened. Then let the student talk about the choice that should have been chosen. I think this is an important skill to learn that can help our students be more successful in life.

Do you encourage independence? What kinds of things do you do to do this? Please share!

Image: 'running free'

1 comment:

Sioux said...

Pat--I used to be a case manager for adults with CP. I still remember some of the meetings where the clients (some in their
30's and 40's) trying to convince their parents that a group home or an assisted-living home would be appropriate for them. The families usually refused to see them as capable of even partial independence.

I think the parents buried their heads in the sand because at some point, they would be dead. And then, who would their children rely on? Wouldn't it be nice if they were living more independently by the time that happened?

In my class, the students rely on each other when they're doing most of their work. And when they're writing (constructive response answers, as well as creative writing tasks), when they come to me to find out if it's okay, I tell them, "It's not my story (or not my answer). What do YOU think?"

Thanks for this post, Pat. It really jogged my memory and sent me back over 20 years into the past.

(Hey--Did you see Chicken Soup for the Soul is calling for stories about "The Power of the Positive." Have you ever submitted to or been published in one of their collections?)