Monday Mom challenge: Let go a little. Or a lot.

Jul 25, 2011 at 7:24 a.m. ET

Parenting is full of contradictions. You keep them safe and healthy and close -- so they can leave and live without you one day. You teach them about making good choices and responsibility -- but you need to let them fail and understand consequences. You support and guide and channel -- but at some point you need to be hands off. You supervise -- but sometimes you need to leave them alone. In short, you need to teach your child independence long before he or she is ready to be independent. But how?

boy-walking-alone Thankfully independence is a process, not an individual event. It's literally baby steps -- followed by toddler steps, school kid steps, tween steps and teen steps. Only after all that is it adult steps out the door. Your path to teaching your child independence is something to be considered and not feared -- at every stage of their childhood.

Information age

On one hand, the rise of the Internet and information has opened new worlds to us. We know and have access to so much more information. On the other hand, we know and have access to so much more information -- and that information can feel scary. It's natural reaction to pull back and pull in and not allow our kids to do certain things. But we should resist that in totality.

Yes, so some of those things we're pulling back on -- well, it's totally reasonable to do so. But other things…well, step back, take a breath. Your child is a capable being. He or she can do a lot -- and much of that you have taught! Instead of hovering over every move your child makes, let go a little.

Consider your own upbringing

When you were growing up, what were some of the milestones in independence you remember? First movies with just a friend, first walks to the ice cream parlor around the corner and so on. You remember them, right? Think about how it felt for your mom to give you that freedom -- or ask her. Was it hard for her to let you do that? But how much confidence did it give you?

Consider age

While letting your toddler walk down the street to a friend's house unsupervised isn't necessarily a good idea, why won't you let your third grader? With age and development comes increased ability and increased awareness. Think about what you can offer your child in terms of independence at his or her age. And then do it. Yes, it is a little scary the first time your 11-year-old rides his bike three blocks to baseball practice, but the odds are greatly in your favor that he will arrive there just fine.

Consider circumstance

You may not live in exactly the same kind of neighborhood that you grew up in -- but your current circumstance might allow you to offer difference kinds of independence. City or country, urban or suburban, there are opportunities all around you to allow your child tidbits of independence and responsibility on the way to adulthood. Look for them.

Trust your parenting

You've worked hard to teach your child about the world. Now it's time to trust your parenting a bit and let your child use what you have taught. Your child can do so much -- so much that you have taught her! Better to let go a little now when there is still a relatively large safety net -- so that you'll both be confident later when it's time to let go a lot.

More on kids and independence

Nurturing independence at any age
Real Moms Guide: Kids and independence
How much independence should I give my child?

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