• Many kids have more independence to play alone or make simple meals during the pandemic.
  • Parents say that their children have enjoyed their new-found freedom, while doctors add that autonomy has important developmental benefits. 
  • Growing independence in kids could be a benefit of pandemic life, experts say.
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Jackie McGuire, a Maryland mom of three, has been giving her children a bit more space during the pandemic. During the day, she's begun leaving the kids alone for short periods of time, or letting them walk around the block in pairs, with a walkie talkie to keep in touch.

At night, she sends them all to their shared bedroom at a set time, but allows them to stay up talking as late as they want. Schooling is all done asynchronously, so the kids can complete their work when they feel like it, not when their parents or teacher dictates. 

Having so much freedom has had a big impact on the kids, who are five, seven, and eight. 

"They have all matured quite a bit," McGuire said. 

The pandemic has left many kids with more free time than they normally would have. Remote schooling is often fewer hours each day than traditional schooling, and extracurricular activities like dance, sports or music lessons have remained closed for the most part. Through intention or necessity, many parents are leaving their kids to entertain themselves - something that parenting experts say will have positive benefits for their development. 

The benefits of independence 

"All too often before the pandemic, kids got a hall pass from learning life skills because they always had to rush off to soccer practice or karate," said Jenifer Joy Madden, founder of The Durable Human, which encourages people to develop resiliency. 

During the pandemic, many kids have more space to experiment, Madden said. Kids who are tired of being behind a screen for school might be more apt to take themselves on an outdoor adventure, while parents who are trying to work from home might encourage children to make their own lunch, or complete chores. 

Although learning to make a sandwich or walk around the block alone might seem small, pediatrician Hokehe Effiong said these are confidence-building exercises that can help kids become capable adults. 

"Independence is a critical developmental skill for children to learn because it leads to positive growth, behaviourally, socially, emotionally, and mentally," she said. "Independence fuels self-reliance, which is an important social skill for children to develop, to have some control over their lives while also learning to handle stress and failure."

Katie Lear, a children's therapist in North Carolina, said that independence isn't just important for kids - it's also fun for them.  

"I've noticed many children feeling a sense of pride and ownership in being able to manage parts of their day alone - for example, picking out their own clothing for school or logging onto their Zoom call alone," she said. "Giving children the opportunity to complete tasks without a parent hovering nearby promotes self-efficacy. Kids learn that they're capable of handling whatever curveballs life throws at them, which boosts self-confidence."

What happens when kids embrace independence 

Dawn Allcot, of New York, had preconceived notions about how to be a good mom - including being there for the kids constantly. But during the pandemic, that just wasn't possible with her nine- and 12-year-olds. 

"My daughter learned to cook pasta and make toast during the pandemic and my son has gotten very independent about keeping the playroom clean and completing his homework, as well as getting his own food and snacks," Allcot said. 

She quickly saw that these tasks had benefits for her kids. 

"I realized that giving my kids freedom is not a bad thing and they handle it well," she said. 

Allcot became even more comfortable with the idea after reading a memoir by May Musk, mother of entrepreneur Elon Musk. 

"That was transformational to me," Allcot says. "That reassurance from someone who has 'been there, done that,' that you can let your kids fend for themselves to a degree and not only will they survive - they can become quite successful."

Effiong said that independence isn't just a luxury for kids - it's a necessity. 

"When children are not given the opportunity to become independent, they can react with anger, frustration and resist following directions, and run the risk of being labeled as defiant and oppositional," she said. "When parents understand that this is a developmental need, it creates a stronger bond between parent and their children.

"Those are the benefits of COVID," Madden said. "Kids realizing not only that they can do things for themselves, but they're pretty good at it."

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