by Raelene Plozza

A teacher’s tips for developing independence in your son

As a teacher, I pride myself on responding to a wealth of research that highlights the benefits of developing independence in boys. In my classes, boys work in teams or groups, they design their own experiments, they self-assess their work, and make choices about the way they demonstrate their understanding.

Most importantly, I try to let them work things out themselves rather than giving them all the answers. They try, fail, reassess and try again. As a teacher, I know that the best learners are motivated, curious and prepared to take risks. Boys who see failure as an opportunity to learn something new have an advantage over those who will not try for fear of failure.

As a parent, I’m not sure I’ve always been as effective! For instance, after years of trying to teach my son to cook independently – with little but cries of hunger and anguish to show for it – he recently moved out of home and, according to Instagram, has embraced his inner MasterChef.

Was he less inclined to cook when under my roof because I stepped in and took over too readily. Did I encourage him to take risks and learn from his mistakes or did I do too much of it for him?

We all want the best for our sons but often our well-meaning attempts at smoothing the paths for them are counter-productive. After all, life is bumpy – it’s how you travel over the bumps that counts.

Here are some tips (from the learning grounds of my family home and the classroom) that will help you help your son develop independence, in and outside the school gates.

  1. Focus on the process (rather than the end goal)
    When the focus is on the process, challenges along the way can be seen as learning opportunities. Failure to succeed is an opportunity for self-reflection so let him fail and learn from his mistakes. Boys need to be allowed opportunities to develop self-assessment skills, which can lead to the development of essential problem-solving skills. Encourage the use of the word ‘why?’, but don’t fall into the trap of giving him all the answers.
  1. Let him learn independently
    This will help him develop other important life skills such as organisation and time management. When we apply well-meaning assistance – such as writing lists for him, purchasing materials, tracking his deadlines, contributing a bit too much to his projects and assignments – we can rob our sons of important opportunities to learn. Be aware of and prepared to support with homework, but don’t do the work for him. It’s all about short-term pain for long-term gain (for both of you).
  1. Choice is an essential motivator
    When boys are able to choose what they learn about, how they learn it, or who they learn with, there is greater ‘buy in’ and motivation. Involve your son in planning family outings, holiday destinations, what vegetables get planted in the veggie patch etc. This way, he’ll be more likely to invest in the process and more likely to see it through.
  1. Explain why effort matters
    Does your son realise that intelligence and talent are not fixed? Explain that his brain is like a muscle – it gets stronger and smarter through effort and practice. If your son has a basic understanding of brain plasticity and its role in him reaching his full potential, he’ll be more motivated to work hard and less likely to give up. Not sure where to start? Try reading Mindset by Carol Dweck or The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doige.


Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School 

Raelene Plozza is a teacher and literacy coach at Brighton Grammar, an all-boys school in Melbourne. This article is about


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