How to help your children develop self-reliance

One of the foremost duties of parents is to teach children self-reliance. Some of the areas we have tried to cover in our family are spiritual, occupational and financial, physical, and practical skills.

We suggest the following:

Spiritual: If a child has not gained a personal testimony before he or she leaves home, hopefully he or she has been taught the principles for doing so, which include:

Daily personal and family scripture study and prayers.

Obedience to the commandments.

Making right choices so as to invite the Spirit.


Teach how to fill out job applications.

Teach how to write a resume.

Provide opportunities for the young person to work outside of his or her home.

Role play job interviews; discuss proper dress and grooming; teach workplace etiquette.

Provide young children the opportunity to work at home, sometimes for money.

Guide children in money management and banking procedures.


Teach children "street smarts" through the following:

Be aware of your surroundings; avoid certain areas, especially at night.

Keep car doors locked, etc.

Conduct family fire and disaster drills. One night we gave everyone in our family 20 minutes to pack everything they would need for three days and informed them that each would have to carry his own things as we hiked to the pasture.

Practical: When old enough, children should know the following:

How to turn off the gas, water and electricity.

How to dial 911.

How to check car oil, water and tire pressure.

How to repair a bicycle, do the laundry, cook, and the others skills that missionaries and other young people will need. - Dixie Drawhorn Baker, Dayton, Texas

How we did it:

Hands-on experiences

Self-reliance for our children is most effectively learned by hands-on experiences, by doing rather than just observing. By accomplishing tasks and assignments on their own, children gain confidence as they overcome fears and doubts about their abilities to succeed.

Wise parents encourage their children to do things that could be done much easier and faster by themselves. We look back now with great appreciation and love to our own parents who gave us responsibilities at an early age that seemed far beyond our years. By teaching children how to work we give them the key to self-reliance and eventually eternal life.

Our heavenly Father is endowed with the greatest wisdom in developing self-reliance among His children. He has sent us here to earth to develop faith, hope, charity and many other attributes by exercising our own agency through hands-on experiences. - David and Diane Scott, Snowflake, Ariz.

Opportunities endless

Nothing is as pitiful as a person who can't make a decision. Start early to help a child develop this skill. Ask, "Do you want to wear the red or blue shirt today?" Or, "Before you go to bed, do you want to brush your teeth first or put away your toys?" The opportunities are endless for children to make decisions. - Gwen Sutton Robinson, Newdale, Idaho

Increases ability

We can discern different ages at which we can trust children with greater responsibilities, and verbalize our encouragement when they do well, rather than only noticing when they don't do well. Sometimes there must be consequences to not doing something they have been asked to do. In this way, children learn that life is not always easy, but that they can make their own way with effort. Most important, they should be taught that it's OK to ask for help, and good to share the load with others, and that especially turning to their Father in Heaven for help is a healthy kind of dependence that only increases their own developing abilities. - Hollye Holmquist, Lancaster, Calif.

Value of labor

What's been good for us is that our home is our work as well, as I am a mortician and my business is attached to our house. Therefore our children see firsthand the value of work. So many fathers have to leave the home and spend the day working. Thus, the children have no idea where the money comes from.

In our home, all our children have responsibilities, and when we are busy at the business, they have responsibilities to keep the house clean.

By our children seeing our labor, they learn the value of work. We thus depend on them to fulfill their responsibilities. They've grown up with these responsibilities. - Don Cannon, Salt Lake City, Utah

Self-esteem, confidence

Helping children learn self-reliance involves more than just teaching them to dress themselves and pick up their toys, or making sure their homework makes its way into the book-bag. It involves building self-esteem and confidence in an individual which will, in turn, develop into a strong sense of self.

Many children (and adults!) refuse to try in case they might fail. We can teach that failure is sometimes only a step away from impending success. A well-rounded person has experienced both success and failure and is thus empathetic to others in similar situations.

We can best teach self-reliance to our children by giving them regular responsibilities that contribute to the family's well-being, by helping them develop an interest or talent, by permitting age-appropriate decision-making, and by providing encouragement. (The-You-Can-Do-It approach.) Probably one of the most important concepts we can exemplify and foster in children is self-discipline. This has implications in all facets of a person's life, both temporally and spiritually. In short, a self-reliant child has limits, love, encouragement, and parents at the helm to steer them in the right direction when they get off course. - Claudia Wilding, Chester, Va.

Personal responsibility

One thing I do with my children as far as teaching responsibilities and making decisions is when they ask me what I think about something or if they can do something, I respond, "What do you think about that?"

With the younger children, I have them look at the pros and cons, but I play a stronger role in helping them make decisions. With teenagers, I hardly make any decisions for them. For example, we have a job chart. If they want to go to a friend's, I say, `What does the job chart look like?" They know if they've done their responsibilities or not. Then I'm more a sounding board in their making decisions.

As to taking responsibility for actions, I try to help my children know that their feelings are validated, even if it be anger or some other emotion. If I send them to their rooms, I go with them; I don't isolate them. I sit with them and discuss with them the right way to express their feelings. Thus, when they are older, they can validate their own feelings and sort through what would be an OK way to act. - Joyce Cox, Afton, Wyo.

How to checklist:

1 Help them gain spiritual, occupational, physical skills.

2 Build confidence, let them make decisions; encourage.

3 Give them duties at home; exemplify value of work.

4 Instill responsibility for actions; teach self-discipline.


Dec. 24 "How to filter out the bad from television and music while utilizing the good."

Dec. 31 "How to focus more on the spiritual and temporal well-being of children during 1995."

Jan. 7 "How to enhance your testimony of the Savior through studying the New Testament."

Jan. 14 "How to cope as a family with crisis."

Jan. 21 "How to cooperate as parents in the discipline of your children."

Jan. 28 "How to cope and be patient while waiting to adopt children."

Had any good experiences or practical success in any of the above subjects? Share them with our readers in about 100-150 words. Write the "How-to" editor, Church News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110, or send fax to (801) 237-2121. Please include a name and phone number. Contributions may be edited or excerpted and will not be returned. Due to limited space, some contributions may not be used; those used should not be regarded as official Church doctrine or policy. Material must be received at least 12 days before publication date.

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