How to Teach Independence

As a coach one of the things I believe everyone needs is independence. Even though I know we never accomplish anything on our own and we have help along the way there has to be that independent spirit there to say I can do this. I’ll figure out a way.

There is a fine line it would seem between independence and dependence. We need to be able to recognize it in ourselves and in others. I recognized this in my son today. Yes he is ten and obviously dependent on me, but there should be things that he doesn’t need to rely on dear old dad to do.

For this instance it is the computer I let him use. He of course plays online games with his friends but recently has been branching out into video recording them for YouTube. Ok that’s great. He wants to learn new skills, but here is the problem, every challenge he runs into on the computer he wants dad to fix. Naturally we want to make life easy for our kids and help them with everything, but this became out of hand. It seemed every 5 minutes he was hitting me up to fix the problems. It was getting to the point I could not get anything I needed to do done.

I’d like to say this is a problem just with children but many of you may have had a friend, co-worker, or family member that does the exact same thing. Whenever they have a problem they look to you to fix it for them. The one that really always got my blood pressure up was the one who would keep coming to you with the same problem over and over again. You guide them to fixing it and for whatever reason it doesn’t stick. Well it’s not whatever reason…It’s because they knew they could always get you to do it for them. I won’t even go to the point to say you are their crutch because deep down they know they could figure it out. They just want the easy path.

So how do those of us that would like to see the people around us be more independent accomplish this? Well to be honest I’ve in the past tried the subtle methods. An example of this was when I was a technical instructor I would get email questions from former students which is fine. I’m always willing to help when someone needed it but what I would do is give them the answer and then put a reference to the technical manual and the page that it is on. This was my subtle way of saying you could have found it if you tried.

This worked for the most part but there was always those few that would still continue to use me as their personal tech support. I’ve even straight out confronted some on it. I would say, “You know you can find this right”? I’ve actually had one come back and say, “I know but this is easier and saves more time”. Yes that was an increased heart rate, high blood pressure moment but hey at least he was honest. He however made my spam folder from that point on.

Which brings me to the original question, how do we teach independence or learn it? We first have to recognize either we are not independent or they are not. It is easy to recognize they are not we just have to help them recognize it. I’ve boiled it down to one question to ask in two different ways.

  • To determine if you are dependent on someone for something the question to ask yourself is: If this person died what would I do?
  • To get someone else to realize that they are being too dependent on you the question to ask them is: If I died what would you do?

This sounds like a horrible thing to say, but I’m serious and you should ask these questions in a serious manner. Why? Because not only is it shocking which puts someone in a suggestive state but also because it now makes you or them think for solutions.

Once you have asked the question you can now work it through either with them or with yourself if you are the offender. You can start asking the questions like where could I / you look for the answers? Have I / you really tried? How much effort have I / you put into learning this? Can I / you actually do this? Why do I / you always come / go to this person for this help? I think you get the idea.

We all want to help others, at least we should. There is a point though where we have to have others start learning to help themselves. By cutting it off you are actually doing them a favor. Learning and growth only can happen when we solve the problems not when someone does it for us. It’s a simple concept that eludes a good portion of people.

As for my son, poor little guy, he is going to find out his dad died tonight.


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