How to teach your child to be independent

Child Psychologist JoAnn Deak, PhD, shares advice for parents on the best ways to teach your child to be independent and confident
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How to teach your child to be independent

One of the hardest things to do with tweens is to help them become independent and to make decisionsnot based on what everyone else thinks or feels. One of the issues is that a part of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex that gives you your strength and capability to stand independently is only about half the size of what it's going to be when you are an adult. Therefore we expect tweens not to be good at it. So my best advice is don't wait until tweendom to have your child make decisions, make mistakes and learn from it. Start when they are little and build up, because if you wait until they become a tween you have too much of a peer pressure going against them. So you want them to get used to decision-making, living with their decisions. You know, "Should I wear a sweater outside today mom?" My answer to that for a child would be 'What do you think?" and let them weigh it. And if they go outside and get cold, that decision is going to lead them to being able to make a better independent decision the next time. So you start very early and you just increase the time. That's what I call a no-brainer. If I want the part of the brain that deals with decision-making to be capable, I have to give it a lot of exercise and start the exercise early.

Child Psychologist JoAnn Deak, PhD, shares advice for parents on the best ways to teach your child to be independent and confident


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JoAnn Deak, PhD

Psychologist & Author

JoAnn Deak, PhD, has spent more than 30 years as an educator and psychologist, helping children develop into confident and competent adults. The latter half of that period has also focused on working with adults, parents and teachers in their roles as guides or ‘neurosculptors’ of children. On her website is a quote that best describes her perspective on her work: “every interaction a child has, during the course of a day, influences the adult that child will become.”

Parents and educators at schools from New York to Hawaii, as well as such organizations as the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Independent Schools, the Association of International Schools, the American Montessori Society and the International Baccalaureate Association, have heralded Dr. Deak’s ability to demystify complex issues of child development, learning, identify formation and brain research.

Dr. Deak has been an advisor to Outward Bound, a past chair of the National Committee for Girls and Women in Independent Schools, on the advisory board for the Center on Research for Girls (Laurel School), for the Seattle Girls’ School, Bromley Brook School, the Red Oak School, Power Play and GOAL. She consults with organizations and schools across the United States. Most recently, she has worked internationally with schools, organizations, associations and parent groups in every continent (except Antarctica!) She has been awarded the Woman of Achievement Award by the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, was given the first Female Educator of the Year Award by Orchard House School, and the Outstanding Partner for Girls Award from Clemson University. She has been named the Visiting Scholar in New Zealand, the Visiting Scholar for Montessori Children’s House and has been the Resident Scholar for the Gardner Carney Leadership Institute in Colorado Springs for the past five years.

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