How to Teach your Child to be Self-Directed

If you’re a homeschool parent, have school-age kids, or just a scattered teenager at home, you may be struggling with how to help your child be self-directed. Although this may come easily to some, we all know certain kiddos that just can’t seem to stay focused or maintain a pathway of self-direction, let alone initiative. But alas, there is hope! Read on to learn a few helpful tips on teaching the most disorganized kids how to get their act in gear.

How to Help your Child be Self-Directed

With just a few tweaks to your student’s (an perhaps your) day, your child can be on a road to success! Check out the most important steps to helping your child be self-directed.

Photo Credit: Not Consumed – Homeschool Boot Camp

Establish a Routine

Heard this before? That’s because it is tried and true for most everyone. Children of all ages thrive best with expectations, boundaries, and, you’ve got it – routine.

Don’t worry – you don’t need to micromanage a minute-by-minute schedule. In fact, most families require an element of flexibility to survive; let’s face it, life throws curve balls at us everyday. This is exactly why you need to help your child be self-directed.

If you want to know how to establish a routine for students at home, consider these steps:

  • Prepare and plan the morning tasks before bedtime to save time. I.e., lay out clothes, make/pack lunch, gather supplies.
  • Create a launchpad as a central station and checkpoint for readiness.
  • Create a Google Calendar account (or Microsoft) and teach your child how to use it! You can also create a family calendar so everyone can stay in the loop with family responsibilities. This 21st century skill will serve them well. Utilize Task List features, virtual meetings, etc., all at your fingertips.
  • Create time blocks rather than detailed hours and minutes. Our days need to be fluid and flexible; creating a block of time for a “morning routine” may be much more successful (and less stressful!) than a super detailed schedule. Here’s the trick: TEACH the routine for the specified time block! For example, write out the steps in the morning routine, including the expected start and end times. Walk through (facilitate) this routine with your child several times until they get the hang of it. I’ve done non-specific time blocks for a long time, but Not Consumed provides a great planner and training model for parents and students who are new to this. In the spirit of how to help your child to be self-motivated, your time invested now will prevent headaches throughout the year.
Excerpt from a Google Doc checklist I created

Create a Checklist

Remember that Google Calendar option mentioned above? Well, there’s a great task-list feature built right in! Use “My Tasks” to create a checklist for students. You can help your child be self-directed by creating tasks, assigning a calendar date, setting a repeating task, and they can check it off as they go. Easy peasy!

Consider a visual checklist or other fun graphic organizer for routines in each time block (also mentioned above). Kids thrive with visual support reminders. We all do! There are tons of templates online to make your job easier; just pick the one that suits you.

Schedule an Accountability Time

Ew. Accountability. Just kidding. Don’t let this be a dirty word! It’s not as daunting as you think. However, it’s one of those things that will get pushed aside and deprioritized if it’s not scheduled into your day. A 5-10 minute check-in with your kiddo is powerful. This creates authority, integrity, consistency, accountability, and even more importantly, gives you an opportunity to connect and see how your child’s day went. Both you and your child will have a time to reflect, discuss, and adjust. Want to know the secret to how to help your child be self-directed? Teach your child the expectation of accountability and set them up for success.

Agree on a Reward

Yes! Reward, reward, reward! Not all people are intrinsically motivated. If your child has that innate, ambitious drive, they STILL need a reward! Rewards vary greatly:

  • the encouragement one feels seeing all those items checked-off on a list
  • money value assigned to task completion
  • daily privilege earned for responsible behavior
  • weekly privilege earned for achieving goals
  • special outing/activity for big accomplishments

Let’s face it, even adults work for a paycheck- extrinsic reward. We volunteer out of compassion or desire to serve – intrinsic reward. Either way, we can teach our children that there are benefits to hard work.

Is your goal to help your child be self-directed? Give some of these suggestions a try! Breathe and embrace the process. If you have a day that is an epic fail, then reflect, adjust, and move on. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain when we invest in the lives of our children.

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