Teaching Independence and Self-Reliance

by Pastor Jack Hyles

(Chapter 7 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, How To Rear Children)

Our world today is crying for leadership, for someone whom the crowd will follow. Such a one must not follow the crowd. He must learn to stand on his own feet, to be his own man, and to be self-reliant. Hence, the child must be taught to think for himself and believe in himself. A planned course of action should be plotted by every parent to train his child so he will not feel he is dependent on society, but rather can make his own way, holding his head high and being his own man. In order to achieve this goal there are certain ingredient which are vital.

Someone has said that men are cast iron while children are clay. Hence, the subject matter covered in this chapter is not for the adult to attach awkwardly to his molded character, but rather for the child to learn and do while his character is being molded.

1. Encourage him to solve his own problems as often as possible. Encourage him to express his own ideas.

2. Lead the child to think always, "Is there any way to improve upon this?" This does not mean that he imposes his will outside his own sphere of occupation. It does mean, however, that in his own mind he should think over and over again about as many matters as possible, "Can I think of any way to improve on this?" Even if he is not asked and does not have the opportunity to put into action these thoughts, He is nevertheless preparing himself for improvements when the opportunity is presented.

Along these same lines teach him to think of a solution to all problems. A person who wants to help others will be ready to help when the opportunity presents itself. This does not mean he should be bothersome and enter into an area where he is not welcome or needed. It does mean, however, that he should be ready to help if he is asked to help. Consequently, the more problems that one can find solutions to the more available he will be when his help is needed or asked.

Gospel singer Bill Harvey after having observed this author for many years said one time, "Dr. Hyles, I would suggest you never go to Italy." When asked the reason he replied, "Because you would try to straighten the leaning tower of Pisa."

God will always provide the opportunity in His own time for a prepared man.

3. Teach the child initiative. Initiative is simply the doing of something without being told. If there is a job to be done, the child does it. It also implies self-confidence and self- reliance. Emerson said, "Trust thyself." Initiative teaches one to do this.

4. Whenever possible give the child a choice between two or three courses of action. In other words, say to him, "Here are three choices. You cannot do them all, but you must do one." Let the child choose. The parent should say, "Johnny, you may have either this one or that one. You may go either this way or that way." (Be sure that both choices are morally right.) "You may wear this garment or that garment. You may eat this food or that food." In other words, the parent should find some choices either of which is acceptable to him. Let the child make a choice thereby getting him into the habit of making decisions on his own. Once the choice is made, be sure the child is held firmly to his decision. He is being taught to be a person of decision. Note carefully he is not being taught to choose between right and wrong. He is being taught to choose the most beneficial right. Again, remember, do not allow him to waver after he has made his choice. Someone once asked Alexander what was the cause of his success. He answered, "Deliberate with caution and then act with decision."

5. Teach the child to make a quick decision once he has thought it over carefully. This is not to say that the child should make a decision without properly weighing the facts. He should be quick to make a firm decision after all the facts have been gathered and weighed.

To aid in the development of such decision making, the parent could present a problem to a child. This problem has to do with making a decision. Give him a set period of time to think about it an insist upon the decision by that time. For example, the parent should tell the child that he has five minutes to make up his mind. The next time the same problem is presented give him four minutes, then three, etc.

There are times in the life of every child when he must make a quick decision. Much will rest upon this. He should be trained to act almost by reflex, and he can if he has been properly prepared.

At his point the reader may wont to indict the author if he does not stop to realize that the author is not advocating rash and hasty decisions. He is simply desirous of combating extensive thinking and indecision when nothing can be accomplished. One should do his best and then be satisfied. If he has made a mistake, he has learned the knowledge that will help him next time. One should not waste time in regret but face the next decision. Certainly one should not undo in doubt what he has done in faith!

6. Do not oversympathize with the child. This teaches him to whine and seek sympathy. If he is going to be his own man, he must learn to face hardships, stand alone, and be willing to suffer without a martyr's complex.

My son, David, at this writing plays on the high school basketball team. Last year he was injured in a game and carried off the floor writhing in pain. I was sitting about 25 feet from him and of course, I was very apprehensive and concerned. However, instead of rushing to his side, I let him be alone for awhile. When the attention was taken off of him I slipped over quietly and said, "How is it, doc?"

With a pained expression on this face he said, "I'm okay, Dad go ahead."

As I walked away I said, "He is becoming a man."

One of the great mistakes made in rearing children is overprotection and oversympathy. People who have no obstacles to overcome and face no hardships are usually weak-willed. Just as muscles are made stronger by use the will is made stronger by use. Hence, early in the life of a child we must see to it that people do not carry on over him with excessive sympathy. To some parents this will seem hard-boiled and harsh. What they do not realize is that they are the ones who are hard-boiled and harsh, for they are training a child by habit to whine. Someday he will be unable to face his hardships alone. Hence, he will cast himself on society and become a liability rather than an asset.

Someone has said that a piece of iron in its rough state is worth about $5. After being made into a horse shoe it is worth about $12. When made into knife blades it is worth $1000. When made into balance springs for watches it is worth $250,000. What is the difference? The difference is that as this iron goes through certain processes and is heated, hammered, rolled, pressed, cut, polished, beaten, formed, etc., it is becoming more useful. The same is true with a child.

One of the great reasons for juvenile delinquency and youth socialistic groups, etc. is that the children are born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths. They never face hardship, never have to work hard, and consequently, are reared thinking they are owed a living. Even young eagles must fly, for the old eagles turn them out as soon as they are able to fly.

7. The child should be taught to make his own way. This does not take an extraordinary brain. School teachers often tell me that the most brilliant pupils often disappoint them. This is because they can do things easily. They do not have to learn to concentrate or to be diligent. They have to face no hardships. Hence, the child with mediocre ability reaches his goal with grit and determination. Because of this he develops the processes that make for greatness. Mental brilliance does not make for greatness. Perseverance, work, character, diligence, industry, and thrift are the causes that make on great. When these qualities have to be developed one can become great without mental brilliance, whereas the mentally brilliant will usually not develop these qualities.

8. When the child reaches the age of six or seven let him earn some money and spend it on his own. Perhaps he can work in the yard for an hour and make a quarter. Then send him by himself down to the corner store to spend it alone. He will learn two things: He will learn to be careful about spending his money, for he had to work an hour to get it. He will also learn to make decisions and to go somewhere on his own. If the store is several miles away, the wise parent will drive the child to within a block of the store, let him out, let him go alone to make his purchase and return to the car. He is learning that necessary fact of life that he must someday be on his own. He is being prepared for that day.

9. As soon as possible let him have his own bicycle and go places alone. Bear in mind we are trying to teach the child independence and self-reliance. Far too many parents put the child in the family car and take him anywhere he wants to go. How sad! Mom becomes a taxi driver for some spoiled, lazy children, and the Dad who does not want his son to go through the hardships he endured has taken from his son the very qualities that made him successful. The wise dad will want his son to endure some hardships, for hardships endured early will prevent greater hardships to be endured later, for the child will have learned to face life.

10. Give him some responsibilities of his own. As soon as possible throw him upon his own resources by giving him responsibilities. Give him a task to perform. Make him perform it to its completion. Do not correct it or finish it for him. He must realize that it is his task and that he must do it. He must know that if he does not do it, it will not be done!

I am grateful that at the age of ten I had my first paper route. I became a businessman. I had responsibility and obligation. I had to face it. There were decisions I had to make and no one could make them for me. I have thanked God many times for this opportunity.

11. Teach the child to repair thing that are broken. Give to the boy the responsibility of being the repairman around the house. Let him tinker and learn how to fix things. Let the girl mend and sew. Along the same line do not purchase for a child what he can make for himself. In another chapter we discussed the fact that a child should make his own toys if at all possible. When we were boys we made such things as scooters, go-carts, slingshots, etc. This is vital in the proper emotional development of a child.

12. Teach a boy to defend himself. The manly art of self-defense should be a part of every boy's development. Teach him to box. Teach him to shoot. Teach him self-defense. A man should have the idea that he can take care of himself, that he can protect those who are his own, and that he can be in charge of the situation. To some this sounds cocky. In a socialistic world it may be that confidence is mistaken for arrogance by those who are not self-reliant.

When my boy was five years of age I bought him a pair of boxing gloves; in fact I bought two pairs - one for the boy across the street and one for my boy. They squared off in the basement and I taught my son how to defend himself. Now he can protect his sisters and he has done so. He also has the feeling that he can take care of himself. This is important for self-reliance.

13. A child should be taught to do one thing and do it well. He should have one aim, one direction. Point his energies in one pursuit. He should know where he is going and learn how to get there. He should direct his activities toward that one goal. It is tragic to see middle-aged men still trying to decide what they are going to be and do in their lives. Such often become professional students who later bounce from one job to another and are always going to be something great "tomorrow."

A little boy was shooting a B-B gun up in the air when a man passing by asked him at what he was shooting. He replied, "The moon."

The man laughed and said, "Why, you can't hit the moon with a B-B gun!"

"No," said the boy, "but I'm a lot closer than you are." Goals are so important!

14. The child should be taught to look out for the needs of others. He should not think of his own desire, but the desire and needs of other people. The parent should point to those in need and teach the child compassion. He should instruct the child to do what he can to alleviate the suffering and satisfy the needs of society.

The other day I was visiting my mother. She will soon be 84. She asked about the children and then we started talking about Dave. She informed me that he makes a habit of seeing her at church and chatting with her for awhile. He also is not ashamed to place a kiss upon her brow. Then she proceeded to tell me that sometimes he just drops by to say, "howdy." No one knows it; he gets no credit for it, but he has been taught to care for his grandmother. The fact is, he does enjoy being with her, but more than that, he realizes her desire to see him, and his is alert to her needs. The leader must no dwell on himself. If he would be independent and self-reliant, he must think of others.

15. The parent should teach thrift. Of course, this will teach itself when the child has to work hard for his money; however, there is a certain philosophy to thrift. Thrift enables one to provide for himself when he otherwise would be unable to do so. The one who is not thrifty casts himself upon society and is unfair to his contemporaries. He say, "I will take care of myself now; you will take care of me later." The thrifty person say, "I will take care of myself now; I will also take care of myself later."

There is nothing quite so sad as an old man who has made his own way and takes pride in it but at he end of his life is dependent upon someone else. This need not if the child is taught to be frugal when he is young.

16. As a child grows older he should spend less and less time with the parent; hence, he becomes less and less dependent upon the parent and more dependent upon himself. He is preparing himself for life and its inevitable decision. He should know of the parents' love and for that matter, maybe he should know why the parent is withdrawing some from him. When the child was very young he was being trained and habits were formed. When habits are formed every young person should have opportunity to practice what he has learned. Hence, the teen years can become sort of an internship, where with the supervision of the parent the young person does more and more on his own.

This does not mean the parent should not spend time with the teenager. He should spend tome with him, but perhaps they should be briefer periods of time. Activities should be done in which the parent does not obviously excel. There are things which the teenager can do as well or better than the parent. For example, maybe by this time the father and son or mother and daughter are of equal ability at playing ping-pong, bowling, or playing golf.

The warning here is for the parent to give the teenager a little bit of room in which to move, not overly sheltering or protecting him. Yes, the parent should have strict rules concerning morals, principles, punctuality, etc. For example, concerning use of my car, there are set rules as to what David can do and when he can do it. Yet, when the two of us are in the car I usually let him drive. While he is driving I try to refrain from doing "back-seat driving," I let him drive! Then of course, I let him drive on his own a great deal. Probably he and I are closer this year than we have been in our lives and yet we spend far less time together.

This means that though the parent will not be with the child as much, he does make himself available. He does not interfere with the teenager as long as the rules are being kept. He does not force a conversation on him about his problems at school. He simply makes himself available and lets the young person know that not only is he willing to talk, when and if he is needed, but he is also willing to listen. Much care should be taken here to avoid treating a teenager as if he were a child. The parent should realize he dare not spend too much time with him and that he dare not be overly protective.

Another point should be stressed. Far too many parents spend time with their children only to gratify the parents' desires. A get-together should always be at the discretion of the parent and for the good of the child. It should be administered like medicine, good food, etc. Just the right amount at just the right time should be the goal.

17. The parent should stress that no one owes anyone else a living. Yes, our government gives us the opportunity and freedom with which to make a living, but it does not owe us a living. No shiftless or lazy man is honest and so shiftless or lazy man can be independent. One should say, "I am a man! I can act, I can think, I can make my decisions. I will be my own man." This does not mean that one should avoid counsel. Far to the contrary, one should seek counsel and let wiser heads than his advise him. In the final analysis the decisions must be his if he is to become a man of decision.

18. The parent should not allow idleness. A child should be taught to avoid hanging around street corners and poolrooms or getting in the car and just idly driving around. Such habits go along with bad resorts: smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and whiskey, and just hanging around in general. Name me one independent man who was supported by his family while he was young, by his wife and family during the middle years, and by the state when he got old. There is none! How sad! Someone has said, "While the devil tempts all other men, idle men tempt the devil." Another has reminded us, "Even a bicycle falls when it stops."

19. As the child grows older he should be allowed to buy more and more of his personal belongings. Perhaps at about the age of ten he could buy his own socks. The parent should tell him what color. Let him decide what kind. When he is about eleven or twelve, with some supervision and instruction he could buy his own shoes. By the time a child is thirteen or fourteen he should be qualified to buy his own clothes. Again, it should be remembered there are boundaries as to style, color, size, etc.

It is almost humorous to go into a men's clothing store and see some little 5'2" mother leading a 6'4" teenage son into the men's department and treating him like he were a three- year-old. She later wonders why the son doesn't hold down a steady job and why he joins a hippie group and in general is a liability to society.

Conclusion: This may be the most important chapter in this book, and certainly apart from Scriptural discipline and spiritual training, it is. Yet, in a real sense, the aforementioned material is a part of spiritual training, for the Bible says that one who provides not for his own is worse than an infidel and that one who does not work should not eat. The Bible does say that each man should be taught to bear his own burden.

Independent, self-reliant, industrious, thrifty, and able adults are not an accident. They are a result of childhood training. This is why the best of us often come from backgrounds of poverty, hardship, and sometimes even tragedy. Let us not let the fact that our young people have not had such incidents prevent them from developing the character that is taught by experiencing them.


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"I am an old-fashioned preacher of the old-time religion, that has warmed this cold world's heart for two thousand years." óBilly Sunday