How to raise self-reliant children starting from birth

Last Updated June 2020

In today’s culture of helicopter parents, snowplow parents, and even parents who are willing to break the law to ensure that their child gets into a good university, we all need to take a big step back and consider what is best for our children. Research tells us that constantly hovering over our kids to make sure they never make mistakes is not helpful. On the contrary, it makes them anxious and dependent.

We know that the practice of snowplow parenting, in which parents remove all obstacles in the road and create an open path to success, only results in the child feeling inadequate, anxious, and depressed. It can be challenging to refrain from over-involvement when we really just want the best for our children. Creating self-reliant, confident children is every parent’s ultimate goal, but how do we go about this in a world of high competition and constant challenges?

It starts at birth. In fact, studies show that a child’s earliest emotional experiences play a tremendous role in the adult that they become.

Step one: Create trusting infants through a secure attachment to a parent or caregiver.

It’s highly critical that you provide your child with a strong attachment through healthy bonding. By simply holding baby, talking to baby, and responding quickly to baby’s needs, you are teaching trust. A baby whose needs are met in a timely manner understands they are cared for and safe. This feeling of security provides the trust necessary to feel calm and relaxed.

You cannot spoil a baby. Feel free to hold your baby, respond quickly to their needs, and cuddle and talk all day long.  This creates a sense of security that is the foundation for strong, confident, self-reliant children.

Step two: Create confident toddlers who are willing to explore their environment.

Toddlers who experienced a strong attachment to a caregiver throughout the first year feel free to take tiny risks. They are secure enough to take brief trips away from you, trusting that you will be nearby if needed. This trust and security allows the child to step away and play, interact with other children, and even go to preschool or childcare secure in the knowledge that you will be there when it’s time to go home.

Every time your toddler has the confidence to walk away from you, self-esteem builds. If you interfere and do everything for the child, however, the child won’t feel that sense of accomplishment. Yes, it may be painful to watch your child attempt to put the wrong piece in a puzzle ten times in a row. However, by standing back and letting them figure it out, you are teaching a valuable lesson.

Offering choice is another effective way to foster independence and self-esteem. Allow your child to choose which snack to eat or which outfit to wear. This builds autonomy, which in turn builds confidence and self-reliance.


Babies who do not have to wonder if their basic needs will be met are free to giggle, babble, interact, learn language, and play.

Dr. Aimee Ketchum  | Pediatric Occupational Therapist

Step three: Create adventurous preschoolers who are willing to take risks.

Conquering small challenges, such as riding a bike without the training wheels or going off to preschool alone, builds self-confidence. And children learn by example, so let them see you taking risks and trying new things, too.

When your child is in a stressful situation, remain calm and encouraging. When they are at the top of a ladder and feeling unsure about going down the waterslide, for example, resist the urge to step in. Give a thumbs-up and tell your child they can do it. If they slide down, heap on the praise. If they retreat back down the ladder, validate their feelings and stay positive about the next try.

Make sure your child feels in control of scary situations, too. Here is another time where you can offer choices. For example, ask “Do you want to walk into preschool alone or holding my hand?” Children are empowered when the trusted adults in their lives encourage them to conquer challenges.

Step four: Create self-reliant children who are not afraid to fail.

No parent wants to see their child fail, but think back to a time when you failed at something. Perhaps you learned something about yourself in the process that made you stronger and better-prepared for future challenges.

If we never allow our children to fail, we deprive them this self-awareness. For example, when your first grader leaves their homework on the counter, you have two choices. You could run it to school immediately so your child avoids avoids the uncomfortable situation of having to tell the teacher they forgot it. Or, you could leave the work right there on the counter and allow your child to deal with the consequences at school. If you always come to the rescue, your child will never feel the discomfort associated with failure. In turn, your child will miss many opportunities to develop coping and problem-solving skills.


Building self-reliance and confidence is so much more than making your child pick up their clothes off the floor or not letting them win at checkers. It is about preparing them for future success by allowing them to develop skills and strengths that come with learning from their own mistakes. This is not a vague goal. It’s a realistic parenting goal that begins at birth and is cultivated into adolescence.

Written by:
  • Aimee