Independence may be the key to reducing anxiety in childhood, new research shows - but how do you give a child independence?

It may sound simple, but letting kids spread their wings can be scary for parents

independent child running through a field of flowers
(Image credit: Getty Images)

New research has revealed the damning effects a lack of independence can have on children, with experts sharing that simply giving children more freedom can help them to grow into less anxious adults. 

Kids' mental health is a hugely important topic to tackle as a parent. Whether it's by learning how to talk to children about their mental health and, in turn, get them talking to you about their emotions, or by educating yourself on the subtle ways your child expresses anxiety and the natural remedies that can treat anxiety, it's important that all parents take steps to ensure their kids' mental health is in a good state. 

But while mental health, and especially anxiety, is now well understood and many measures are in place to protect kids, new research and expert insight has shown that the modern world may actually be causing more anxiety than it's reducing. That's because, according to Boston College professor and researcher Peter Gray, the lack of independence kids have today, as parents try to protect them from the dangers in the world, is the main driving force behind their anxiety. 

In his study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, the expert connects the increasing lack of time children spend engaging in independent activity and play with the rising number of children experiencing mental health struggles. He explains that, by not having 'agency' over their own lives, as children grow up they struggle to independently handle the realities of the world. 

He's not the first to point this out. Many experts have previously highlighted the importance of letting children take risks for the way it develops hardy traits in them, and many parents are all for giving their children independence to help raise them into resilient kids. But how do you do that? 

Whether your child is already showing signs of anxiety, or you're taking precautionary steps to ensure they don't develop anxiety in adulthood, independence therapy is a growing trend that's allowing parents to step away from their kids for a bit and give them, well, independence. 

All you have to do is give your children permission to do something new on their own. Depending on your child's age, the activities may differ. The only important thing is that the kids do the activity without their parents. 

Camilo Ortiz, PhD, a professor of psychology, along with Lenore Skenazy, the president of the Let Grow children’s independence movement, ran a study to see if there really were any benefits to independence for anxious kids. Spoiler, there is! 

Explaining Dr Ortiz's approach, Skenazy shared, “Instead of asking the child to tell him what thing they were most scared of and then requiring the child to face it directly, he’d ask the child if there was something new that they wanted to do on their own. Even the anxious kids in his pilot study did have things they wanted to try. Things like walking home from school, or taking the local bus.

“What makes the experience so transformative is that when the child does something new, on their own, their confidence grows,” Skenazy, told Motherly

“It’s not just the kids who change,” she added. “The parents do too. Because for some reason or other, they weren’t letting their kid do X yet—whatever X is. But once they do and their kid comes home, beaming with pride, the parents change as much as their children. Their fear and distress get replaced by pride and joy.”

Not only were the benefits palpable, they showed themselves incredibly quickly, dimming children's anxiety at speed. In fact, Dr Ortiz commented that the quick-fire results of independence therapy, when one independence activity occurred per day, were equal to those of much longer therapies such as CBT, or medication. 

The biggest struggle likely won't be your child's anxiety, the experts share, it'll be the parents' worry about their growing independence! 

Tackling kids mental health is incredibly important - especially as recent research has shown that teenagers in the UK today feel 'hopeless' about their futures and believe their lives will be worse than their parents.' As a parent, it's important to be on the look out for signs of depression in children as we figure out how to raise happy kids, but don't forget to also look after yourself and manage stress with self-care ideas to boost your health.

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse
Royal News and Entertainment writer

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is royal news and entertainment writer for She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.