The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives

Or How To Raise Independent, Less Anxious Children


How can we raise a self-driven child? By giving children more autonomy, discussing options with them and allowing them to try things out. Researchers point out that children today have more anxiety than those who lived through the World Wars and the Great Depressions of the 30's. The illness that plagues most children is anxiety which makes them hyper-focused or leaves them overwhelmed. Children are under enormous stress because very often their time is micro-managed and organized to the last detail.

A new book by child psychologist William Stixrud and educator Ned Johnson highlights this and provides ways to counter them. Parents, teachers and caregivers have to actively let go of control and work with children in such a way that they do not alienate them. The book makes this point using several findings from various research sources. The authors so accurately note:

... think of what their days are like: they have to sit still in classes they didn't choose, taught by teachers randomly assigned to them, alongside whatever child happens to be assigned to their class. They have to stand in neat lines, eat on a schedule, and rely on the whims of their teachers for permission to go to the bathroom. And think of how we measure them: not by the effort they put into practicing or how much they improve, but by whether another kid at the meet happened to swim or run faster last Saturday. We don't measure their understanding of the periodic table, but how they score on a random selection of associated facts.

It is frustrating and stressful to feel powerless, and many kids feel that way all the time. As grown-ups, we sometimes tell our kids that they're in charge of their own lives, but then we proceed to micromanage their homework, their afterschool activities, and their friendships. Or perhaps we tell them that actually they're not in charge-we are. Either way, we make them feel powerless, and by doing so, we undermine our relationship with them.

This book will stop you in your tracks because it is eerily familiar. As adults, we think we know better, but quite often by managing and maintaining strict control over children's schedules we make them feel out of power and control. If we restore this, children will work from a place of understanding and self-preservation rather than rebellion.

The Self-Driven Child is an important book because we are now well and truly in the age of anxiety, with depression being the greatest killer. If we can arm ourselves and help our children better manage the upheavals they have to face simply by supporting rather than forcing advice, we would have done our job.


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