As the Independence Day is celebrated here in the United States, I wanted to write this post about the importance of freedom to children, and how parents can support this vital part of their development by allowing their child to be as free as possible.

Many parents are not hearing or understanding their child’s cry for freedom... 

Resisting or blocking the child’s natural developmental drive for freedom is one of the biggest sources of conflict between parents and children. 

Many parents are exhausted by this constant battle with their child, because they are literally fighting forces of nature and life itself. We will ALWAYS lose this battle!

There are casualties on both sides of this battle as the child ends up feeling misunderstood and frustrated which is expressed in different forms of acting out from the tantrums and tears of a toddler to the defiance of the teenager.

I am writing this blog so you can understand your child better.

Instead of resisting her natural tendency to seek greater independence, you can learn to support it while also setting limits and structure where they are appropriate.

The Child’s Conquest of Independence

Dr. Montessori describes the child’s need for freedom as a “conquest.”

It is something that the child has to master in order to thrive in this world as an adult.

Like an arrow released from the bow, the child is driven by a powerful force of nature to land her target which is her independence. 

The child is unstoppable in her hunger for freedom, and it is our duty and responsibility to support the child in her conquest vs. crippling her in her attempts. 

The need for freedom comes from deep within the child as it is planted in her as a divine seed which results in much joy and enthusiasm when it is allowed to grow freely. The child’s freedom is an expression of the life force itself. 

The child is merely floating in the river of the natural development of all sentient and non-sentient beings in this world which aim to become the most magnificent, and beautiful version of themselves. We are all here to express the majesty of our souls and fulfill our purpose in life.

Dr. Montessori says that the child is in love with her environment.

This natural attraction to the world is what allows the child to be curious about it and be an explorer of her surroundings. 

Have you ever observed your child be completely enamored by a little bug or a flower?

Have you seen them fully in the moment of exploring movement and play to the point they don’t even hear when you are calling their name?

Please know they are not being defiant, but in love with what they are doing and experiencing. If you abruptly pull your child away from her joyful participation in life, they will rebel, and fight you.  

When this happens many parents blame their child and view them as disrespectful and oppositional. Parents may feel powerless and unsure how to get their child to comply. 

True discipline comes from within the child through the connection you have with them and the love and respect you show them. When you have a deeply loving and connected relationship with your child, it will be easier for the child to hear you, and do what you are asking. 

You also need to seek to understand the world and the experience of the child and her need for freedom. 

I invite you to join her in those joyful moments for a bit… 

Walk across that bridge of time when you were a child, and meet her where she is at; in a place where time stands still and only the wonderful present moment exists. Enjoy that moment together for a while, and then take her hand and gently guide her across the bridge to your adult world. 

Understanding is the greatest expression of unconditional love. 

Taking The Steps Towards Independence 

The child’s quest for independence begins from the moment they are born.

From the first breath to their last, life force moves them towards being able to walk, talk and do things independently. 

Behind the scenes, in the child’s brain and nervous system, a perfect biological clockwork is in place which dictates the periods of growth and independence.

In order for the child to be able to learn to walk, talk, see, and hear, she needs to experience her environment. Development is child's “work”. Depriving the child her duty to work will thwart her development.  

Examples of a child's work are walking, talking, screaming, singing, jumping, playing, crying, touching everything, moving her body in all sorts of ways, and exploring the environment with ALL their senses. 

Independence is gained through effort and activity. It is not static. The child needs to do as many things as possible by herself.

Too many times, adults are impatient and ignorant as they step in to “help” the child because there is a rush to be somewhere, yet this helping is actually robbing the child opportunities to learn and be independent themselves.    

As the child moves through and experiences her work, she begins to feel more powerful and independent. It is our responsibility to assure that she has the environment and the means to become as powerful and independent as possible. 

“When we say the child's freedom must be complete, that his independence and normal functioning must be guaranteed by the society, we are not using a language of vague idealism… Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.”

~ Maria Montessori ~

How To Support Your Young Child’s Independence

  • Let your young toddler do a lot of physical heavy work. Allow them to use their maximum effort
  • Don’t do anything for your child if they can do it themselves. Coach and guide them how to do things with as minimal involvement as possible
  • Allow your child who has just learned to walk, to walk independently as much as possible. Leave the stroller at home. “We must walk with the child, not the child with us” (Maria Montessori)
  • Don’t hold your child’s hand all the time. Don’t drag them by their arms or lift them up at your whim and without asking for permission. Be respectful of their bodies and their self-determination. 
  • Allow your child to walk alone as far away from you as possible when safe. Expand your circle of safety and do not let your fears and anxieties hinder the exploration and independence of your child.  
  • Allow your child to explore her environment: Let them touch things. Teach them what is breakable, sharp or hot and trust them. Teach them how to use matches and how to light a candle. Your young 4 year old will experience great delight in this. 
  • Involve your child in all household work and cooking. Set up your kitchen so that you have child size tables and chairs and a little work station for the little one. Teach them how to use the knife and chop vegetable. Be patient. 
  • Get rid of the sippy cups and yogurt in plastic tubes. These hinder your child’s development of coordination which is also connected to her brain development. You are doing a disservice to your child by allowing these and they slow down or hinder your child’s development. Let go of your own comfort and ease. Let it be messy for a while. 
  • Let your child dress themselves, brush their own teeth and comb their own hair. Be patient and realize it does not have to be or look perfect.
  • Let your child climb, jump, run, and spin as music as possible. It satisfies her spirit and makes her joyful as she is learning to master her body. Take deep breaths and be willing.  
  • Let go of your own comfort and welfare and do with the child what they want to do. Allow the child to lead. 
  • Allow freedom at night as well. From 2 years on, the child can be free from her crib, and have a low bed or mattress on the floor so she can move about freely if she wakes up. Do not keep imprisoning your child in her crib for your own comfort. When your child has had a nice long day of activity and independence, and a secure loving connection with you, she will sleep peacefully through the night. When you develop independence in your child, she will be able to entertain herself if she wakes up before you and will not disturb your sleep. And if she does, be joyful that she is desiring connection, and receive her with open arms and the best cuddles. When your child has a bed they can get in and out by themselves, they're excited to go to bed and sleep restfully. 
  • Allow your child to eat what they want. This is part of the world for them to explore. Don’t be controlling or anxious about their food. You can set boundaries in this by having only healthy and wholesome foods available in the house. Arrange snacks so that the child can reach them by herself and prepare them for herself when she is hungry. You can also model healthy eating and talk to the child in a kind way about what is healthy and wholesome and what is not. Do not lecture, instill fear or threaten. Do not use food as a reward.  

Final Words…

If you are not used to the idea of giving your child this level of freedom and independence as I suggest in this article, I can understand that your heart might be pounding right now, and it may seem impossible to implement some of the suggestions.

Please be kind with yourself and know that this is totally normal.

Our view of how children should be reared has been backwards ever since the era of industrialization when the goal of education became to raise children to be good and  obedient factory workers.

Also, the role of parents shifted drastically as family structures changed when both parents entered the workforce.  

It is important to understand that you have been conditioned by society and by your own upbringing to a certain blueprint of how children should be raised, and that you have been doing the best you can with the information you have.  

The problem is that while society has changed, the needs of children and childhood have not, which is why we are facing this challenge of ensuring children their freedom and independence in a society that no longer naturally supports them.

This is where parents, educators and other adults who interact with children have the responsibility to become leaders, and fight against the common mistaken beliefs about children which places them as marginalized citizens of this world instead of the savior of the future that they are. 

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