Teaching Children to Be Self-Reliant

One of the big questions we ask as parents is, “How did my sweet, loving baby turn into an obstinate, tantrum-throwing monster?” And while we still love our children forever those tantrums can make everything more difficult. Discussions about self-reliance may feel like the least of our priorities. Teaching children principles of self-reliance, however, can actually help children learn to responsibly manage their emotions and behavior. Here are some tips for getting started.

First, recognize that children are constantly pushing their boundaries, so consistency on your part is important. Secondly, they are on information overload, trying to understand the world around them, so of course it gets frustrating at times. Be patient and schedule quiet time so they don’t feel overwhelmed all the time.

As they grow, make learning life skills a natural part of everyday activities. This makes them feel better about themselves and cuts down on the tantrums.

The first skill children need to learn is being responsible for their actions. We need to recognize that young children don’t yet realize that everybody makes mistakes, so in order to save face with their parents, children will blame others for messes they make or a bad mark they received in school. We have to connect the dots for them without making them feel inadequate.

Rachel Robertson, director of education and development at Bright Horizons Family Solutions in Watertown, Massachusetts, explains how to help children connect the dots: “For instance, you could say, ‘Because you studied hard, you got an A on your spelling test’ or ‘Since you jumped in a puddle, your shoes are soggy.’” She then suggests asking your child to think of cause-and-effect situations for the parent: If you start with “Mom overslept,” you could then ask the child what the consequences of that may be: “Mom overslept, so she has to go to work in her pajamas!” You’ll get silly answers—and that’s part of the fun—but the lesson is sinking in.

Other tips from experts include:

Once you see progress in your child’s ability to accept responsibility for his or her actions, you can move on to teaching further aspects of self-reliance. Encourage your child to do small tasks himself or herself before offering your help. Let him or her make choices and mistakes so that he or she learns from both. Compliment him or her for all successes, and offer encouragement for less-effective efforts.

Here are a few ways to teach your child self-reliance:

  • Schedule daily chores. Make a chart that lets your child check off each task when it’s completed. This gives your child a chance to see his or her accomplishments


  • Help your child manage time. Some children struggle with what to do even when presented with several options. Structuring their time helps them understand time management


  • Save room for free time! Children need time to explore, use their own imagination, create their own rules, and experiment, especially in groups.


  • Help your child manage money. Saving money is good for the soul. It provides a sense of security, and it helps develop self-discipline. Paying tithing teaches obedience and provides an opportunity to talk about how that obedience leads to blessings.


  • Help with choices without making them for your child. This develops his or her sense of independence and also helps reinforce consequences in a safe environment. Give your child the opportunity to suggest options, and be mindful of his or her feelings about the choices he or she makes (Carolyn Tomlin, “10 Ways to Create Self-Reliant Learners,” Earlychildhood NEWS.


  • Protect your child’s feelings. Mercedes Samudio, LCSW, a parent coach, suggests, “As a parent, becoming a guardian of your child’s feelings, development, and interests is one of the first steps to teaching your child how to rely on themselves to be a more independent person” (“Do It Yourself: Teaching Self Reliance to Your Child,” Parents Space.

Spiritual self-reliance works in much the same way: Once your child has learned to take responsibility for his or her choices, you can teach spiritual principles adapted to his or her level of understanding. As you do so, always remember that the best way to teach your child to develop his or her own testimony of Jesus Christ is to lead by example. As President Spencer W. Kimball taught,

The family routine of scripture study, prayer, and family home evening creates a safe structure in which children can explore their own relationship with God. They learn how to ask their own questions in their personal prayers, how to put others first, and how to rely on the Lord to help them solve problems. By paying tithing and fast offerings, they learn to give back to the Lord in gratitude and to be obedient.

Self-reliance comes a little at a time. We learn by our experiences, just as our children do. But we should be encouraged by their progress and by our faith in the Lord, for He has said,